Editorial: need an alternative to PSAT/SAT classes
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A vital change in this year’s course catalog is the lack of test prep classes.
As sophomores and juniors look over the class selection for the 2017-18 school year, many of them may not notice that PSAT and SAT preparatory courses, which were offered as free classes in previous years’ course catalogs, will no longer be available for the next school year.
Principal Scott Warstler cites recent budget shortfalls, the removal of the program from other high schools in the district, and a lack of projected score improvement as reasons to no longer offer the course. Now, there isn’t anything to be done for the class if the district can’t afford to keep it, but this still means plenty of kids in the district are set back. Students whose families can afford to spend huge amounts of money on test prep might not need the class, but low-income students who don’t have that option will be forced to fend for themselves after this year.
If the only free PSAT and SAT prep classes in the area will no longer be offered, then the school should at least provide juniors with other resources for practice, hold counselor visits to classrooms specifically about the PSAT and SAT, and help low-income students with college prep class costs. With such a demanding academic environment on campus, there’s no way the school can expect its students to make up for this kind of lost opportunity on their own.
A recent $30 million drop in FISD funds may mean that programs and privileges on campus get cut, but there are ways to minimize the losses of the PSAT and SAT classes without spending any district money. For example, having a counselor visit the school’s 10th-12th grade English classes before testing season starts is a great way to ensure students are aware of free ways to prepare for their tests, through resources like Family Connection, Khan Academy, and College Board practice exams.
Additionally, part of the visit could involve answering some sample SAT questions as a class, and sending students an email “cheat sheet” for events, websites, and thing to expect on the test. These visits would be a start to ensuring that all students are able to have the same amount of access to PSAT and SAT study materials. After all, not everyone reads the school newspaper, and even though the district can no longer offer test prep classes, the school is still responsible for providing students with the opportunity to succeed at their senior year exams.
Even with all these free online materials, some students might need an in-depth classroom-based experience to help them get desirable grades on their PSATs and SATs. Kids on campus often found the PSAT and SAT course to be both a confidence and knowledge-boosting resource. Dylan Harrison, a senior who took the course in the past, said the class helped him prepare for both of his exams, and felt like the experience supplemented his knowledge in his English and math classes.
Unfortunately, the only remaining alternative that offers a similar experience is privatized SAT prep classes. Even with a series of free practice exams and a discount for FISD students on the Princeton Review, these kinds of classes remain expensive by most standards. Economically disadvantaged students, who make up 10.5 percent of the district, will require financial assistance in order to pay these steep fees. Instead of leaving these students high and dry, the school should partner with sponsors, such as the PTA, to create financial aid opportunities so that low-income students can feasibly take these classes. Otherwise, over one in ten students will not have the ability to prepare for their SATs as effectively as the rest of the school.
Some individuals would suggest that many students do not get anything out of preparing for college exams, and would do better to focus on school subjects, anyway. They might point to the fact that more and more colleges are becoming test-optional, and even the founder of the Princeton Review states that the SAT is a “useless” test. The sad thing is, they’re right.
Yet none of these revelations have made the PSAT or the SAT irrelevant yet. Most colleges, especially the higher-ranked ones, require either SAT or ACT scores as a gauge of freshman year scores, and merit-based college scholarships often list said scores as an eligibility requirement. Even Collin College requires SAT or ACT scores for admission. The familiarity and experience that test prep provides, as well as its purported hundreds-of-points increases, have a definite impact on students’ admission into college.
Whether or not the district decides to rethink dropping the PSAT and SAT prep class, right now, it needs to look into alternative ways of helping students get ready for their college exams. For those with no other options, measures need to be taken to ensure they’re aware of free options for test prep, as well as able to afford other courses to replace the old class. Without immediate action, low-income students may fall behind those who can afford to compensate for the loss, and it’ll be too late for them to catch up during testing season next year.