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Editorial: Covering test costs for Spokane students a sound move

Starting this spring, no Spokane Public Schools student will be able to use that tired excuse: The dog ate my SAT.

Nor should cost, timing or inability to properly prepare discourage a student from taking the college entrance test or its preliminaries, the PSAT and ReadyStep. By agreeing to pay the full cost of testing and SAT preparatory software, and administering the test during a school day instead of Saturday, the district has flattened barriers to full student participation and all its potential benefits.

This is $104,000 very well spent, for district and students.

The benefits to the high school students just start with eliminating the costs: $14 for the PSAT taken by sophomores and juniors; and $51 for the SAT taken by juniors. If they plan to go on to one of the Spokane Community Colleges, they get the extra savings from not having to take the entry tests there. And SCC will not require students with SAT scores above threshold levels to take – and pay for – remedial classes that earn them no credits.

Students have been paying $30 per test for each subject. That’s a major expense for the many students who qualify for free lunches, and many education experts in the United States claim the current test forces students into remedial classes they do not need.

Also, students who take the PSAT get them back along with correct answers. The SAT software, which includes complete sample tests, helps students identify strengths and weaknesses, and recommends ways they can improve their test scores.

Chief Academic Officer Steven Gering says students from homes with no history of academic achievement sometimes do not understand the testing process, and how good scores on the PSAT, for example, can qualify them for National Merit Scholarships or other financial aid.

The district began paying for ReadyStep – taken by eighth-graders – and sophomore PSATs three years ago, and junior PSATs last year. Free SATs will start with the spring test.

Gering says PSAT results so far have identified a districtwide weakness in grammar that state tests for writing proficiency did not bring out. The district is already amending its curriculum to address that shortcoming.

Not surprisingly, having PSATs for all students, instead of just those with better grades, lowered aggregate scores. Test results expected soon may show some early gains from the changes, but it may take as long as two years for results to fully reflect the anticipated improvements.

Knowing that a high school diploma is no longer enough to assure employment with a future, the district and Superintendent Shelley Redinger have expanded their mission to support education not just through high school graduation, but through the first two years of college as well. A seamless testing progression from the eighth grade through junior year will open the way for many more Spokane students.

The phantom dogs will have to chew on something else.

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