Schenectady High rolls out school-wide SAT testing

District wants more students to take test
Schenectady High School student Julia Smith is pictured on Thursday.
Schenectady High School student Julia Smith is pictured on Thursday.

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Julia Smith, a Schenectady High School senior, tallied a pair of nearly perfect scores on the SAT and ACT exams this year: 1580 out of 1600 on the SAT and 35 out of 36 on the ACT.

And she still considered retaking the test.

“The thought briefly entered my mind,” said Smith, whose score last year on the PSAT was high enough to earn her recognition as a National Merit semi-finalist and a chance at college scholarships.

She ultimately decided to let stand her pair of almost-perfect scores, as she applies to schools like Dartmouth College and Cornell University, with plans to major in linguistics. Smith took the PSAT last year as part of a new effort to provide the test to more and more students at Schenectady High School.

More than 450 of the school’s students took the PSAT alongside Smith in 2017, and a total of 123 seniors took the SAT. This year, with the district paying for nearly all students in the 10th- through 12th-grades to take the tests, 400 are expected to take the SAT, and more than 1,000 will take the PSAT. (Some students have opted out of taking the test, while others have special needs that preclude them from participating.)

“SAT Day,” as staff at the high school have taken to calling it, takes place Wednesday. While hundreds of upperclassmen are taking the exams, ninth-graders will fan out on field trips around the region and state. Some ninth-graders will head off on college visits, while others work to help clean up Central Park.

High School Principal Diane Wilkinson said the effort to administer the tests will help strengthen the school’s emphasis on encouraging all students to see college as an option. Students who might not have thought of attending college will get to see what their prospects may be, while students on the path to college have a chance to get a free SAT under their belts.

“It continues the conversation around: What am I going to need to get into college?” Wilkinson said.

She said she hopes to make the schoolwide SAT testing available every year, to build a school culture around going to college. In time, students and families will know they can expect the school to provide for the tests and plan accordingly. The school this year has helped some families get refunds for tests they had already paid for their students to take.

“We are creating a practice that, in my opinion, will become a forever practice, something we will always provide,” said Wilkinson, who credited Superintendent Larry Spring with the original idea.

The SAT Day will cost about $40,000, Wilkinson said. That includes administering the PSAT and SAT to most all students in 10th- through 12th-grade, as well as sending the freshmen on various field trips around the state. The day itself will be the school’s largest testing day of the year, a major logistical challenge. Wilkinson said it’s the equivalent of proctoring all of the state Regents exams on a single day – in a single morning.

Other districts — and some whole states around the country — have moved to administering the SAT to all students, according to Jaslee Carayol, a spokeswoman with The College Board, which administers the SAT and PSAT. She said 10 states administer the SAT during the school week, while more than 200 districts, including New York City and other large city districts, do the same.

“Administering the SAT at no cost to students during the school day fosters a college-going culture and increases access to college,” Carayol said in a prepared statement.

As most of her classmates take the SAT on Wednesday, Julia Smith plans to spend time working in a teacher’s classroom. She also has a Wednesday deadline to submit an application and essay to be considered a National Merit Finalist, an award granted to only a small slice of high school students around the country, and get a shot at winning a scholarship.

She said the essay she is writing for the application is about one of the first Schenectady students she met after joining a crew club in seventh-grade; she said he was kind and welcoming to her, which has stuck with her over the years. That kind young student later killed himself, and since then, he has shown up in different parts of her life. Friends and teammates have written about him or devoted artwork to his memory – reminders of the impact he left on the community. His story has shown her just how connected the Schenectady community is, she said.

“It’s little things, but he keeps coming back, and he keeps reminding me he existed and how interconnected the community is,” Smith said of her essay.

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