Middle Park switches to SAT after state mandate
April 13, 2017
All across Colorado this week high school juniors and sophomores took the SAT and PSAT. The two acronyms, if you are unfamiliar, are the names of a standardized college entrance exam and its corresponding pretest.
For many years, students in Colorado took the ACT as their primary standardized college entrance exam, rather than the SAT. From 2001 to 2015, the state contracted with ACT, a nonprofit educational organization, and its standardized test for high school students as the mandated college entrance exam for Colorado.
In 2015, though, the Colorado State Department of Education selected the SAT as the state's new mandated test after a bidding process that was eventually won by the SAT and the entity that administers the SAT, the College Board. High school students in Colorado previously had the option of taking the SAT, but that wasn't common. .
Middle Park High School students experienced the new paradigm firsthand this week. Juniors from the East Grand School District took the SAT Tuesday morning while the high school's sophomores sat for the PSAT Wednesday. This is the first year in Colorado's history the state has mandated high schools administer the SAT instead of the ACT.
The transition to the SAT has been a two-year process. The state had initially planed to require school districts begin administering the test in the spring of 2016. However, a number of school districts across the state protested the requirement on the grounds it was not fair to last year's crop of juniors, who had largely been preparing for the ACT prior to the Board of Education's decision.
A compromise was struck allowing last year's juniors to take the ACT, while tenth-graders were required to take the PSAT in preparation for this year's initial administering of the SAT. Middle Park Principal Thom Schnellinger outlined some of the changes that have come about because of the switch from ACT to SAT.
"The SAT has done a great job creating lots of practice tests online," Schnellinger said. "Students can download an app where they can get the SAT question of the day. If they get the question wrong the app provides a link to the Khan Academy, where they can bone up on the lesson and figure out why they missed it."
The Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that offers free educational resources for students online. Schnellinger said students could easily sign up for a Khan Academy account to access the study materials provided. "I think when it came to bidding process they [SAT] really brought their A-game," Schnellinger said.
Schnellinger highlighted the reductions in text anxiety students can achieve by thoroughly taking advantage of the study and pretest resources provided for the SAT. He also highlighted the ways Middle Park High is also working to reduce that anxiety.
"I think we do a good job in our classes of paying attention to test anxiety and creating questions and problems and writing that mirrors what they will be seeing on some of these test," Schnellinger said. "We try to give them SAT and ACT like questions. It is important for them to become more comfortable."
Schnellinger also pointed out former Grand County Commissioner Jane Tollett provides an SAT preparation program for students in East Grand wherein students spend a day going through a practice test to get a feel for how it all works and any areas of problem they might encounter. The local Rotary Club underwrites the program.
The very concrete importance of the SAT, and the ACT as well, was something Schnellinger stressed. He discussed the long-term benefits for students who studiously apply themselves in preparation for the test.
"Parents and students alike see currency in the SAT and ACT," Schnellinger said. "They see them as very practical tests that have meaning to them. We have seen an increase in scores across the state as a result of parents and kids buying into the testing environment more and more."