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In a 1st, Flagler Requires All Juniors to Take SAT, Raising Concerns About County’s Image If Grades Drop

| February 12, 2014

Never fun, but potentially useful. (Jeffrey Pioquinto)

Never fun, but potentially useful. (Jeffrey Pioquinto)

In any given year some 225 students at Matanzas High School and 275 students at Flagler Palm Coast High School will take the SAT, the college-entrance exam. That’s half the number of eligible students. The other half is usually not on a college track, though some college-bound students choose not to take the SAT, and others opt not to take it because they can’t afford it, or think they’re not college material.

Students taking the SAT have to pay for it. It’s roughly $50, not counting extras such as late fees, phone-registration fees or extra-report fees. And they have to devote the better part of a Saturday morning to the test.

This year it’ll all be different for Flagler County’s juniors. On February 26, a Wednesday, every junior at Matanzas and FPC will be sitting for the SAT. All 975 of them. They don’t have a choice. It’ll be called the SAT School Day.

In exchange, the SAT will be administered free to students, and it will be done during a school day. The first-time arrangement is the result of a partnership between the College Board, the New York-based organization that administers the SAT, and school districts in Florida, including Flagler.

The partnership is designed to give more students access to the SAT, and to perhaps enable them to discover a college readiness they either did not think they possessed, or were not thinking about. The College Board has been focusing on encouraging poorer students to think about college, especially after research from Stanford University reveal that poorer students who may well score high on the SAT may not even apply to the better colleges.

“We did believe that those kids should still be provided with the opportunity to demonstrate college readiness, with college and career readiness really being the theme of today’s education,” Shawn Schmidli, the district’s testing coordinator, said.

Given that context, a free SAT to every junior in Flagler County should be a no-brainer. Instead, it was the subject of serious concerns by Colleen Conklin, a school board member, when the arrangement was submitted to the school board for approval late last month.

In schools where only college-ready students take the exam, the cumulative results would be higher, she said. In schools where all students are forced to take the exam, cumulative results would inevitably be lower, because they would include the performances of students who are not on a college track. The two outcomes, Conklin said, would tell “dramatically different stories.” Those results would then show Flagler County in a poorer light.

It’s not as if the school district can afford lower SAT scores, either: In the last two years, the district’s overall scores have been lower than the state average, and considerably lower than the national average.

Colleen Conklin. (© FlaglerLive)

Colleen Conklin. (© FlaglerLive)

Schmidli agrees that there may be “a potential declining score” by doubling the number of students taking the test. But if average individual scores decline, school grades themselves won’t. “The benefit that we looked at when having all of our students take the SAT is really one that relates to school grades as well,”  Schmidli  said, “because when you look at school grades and another metric that’s included for highs schools is college readiness in reading and college readiness in math. For those two metrics, it doesn’t look at the average score. A kid either demonstrates college readiness or he or she does not. And they’ll take the best score for that student. So there’s no way that this could hurt a school with regards to school grades. It can only help.”

Conklin was not convinced.

“I’m not going to lie. This is very concerning to me, that we’re going to do what we’re proposing to do in this agenda item. And I understand it’s not going to hurt the schools in regards to school grades. But I am concerned about what the final outcome and the picture it paints for those looking and viewing our school district,” Conklin said, citing potential families or businesses looking to relocate to Flagler, but being turned off by lower SATY scores—a typical if not always accurate indicator that families and businesses do look at when evaluating a region’s schools.

There are SAT prep courses at both high schools that students can take as electives, but as far as this SAT School Day is concerned, the majority of students will not have gotten any preparation.

But board member Trevor Tucker had no qualms about the program. “For me it definitely provides a great service for students because financially, there’s probably a lot of students out there who are on free and reduced lunch who may not even think of that as an option because they can’t afford the SAT,” Tucker said. “Now they can go take the SAT for free. Who knows, they may get a scholarship, they may do very well when they didn’t even expect that before. To me, to have everyone the opportunity to do this is way greater than whatever the scores looks like. OK, our district doesn’t look as good as others. That’s perception. If you’re in this county and really want to know what our school district is, come to the schools.”

Superintendent Jacob Oliva saw few downfalls to the SAT School Day as well.

“We’re already getting skewed data from the perspective you’re speaking about it now because we have may students who may not have been taking those exams trying to get concordance scores to meet the FCAT requirements to graduate,” Pliva said, referring to students who are not college-bound but who take the SAT in hopes of overcoming poor results on the FCAT: if a student fails the FCAT, a passing score on the SAT can be used to fulfill the state’s graduation requirement.

“If we open it to everybody, we might be able to catch kids that show readiness that might not be aware of it and be able to push them further into a direction where they might not even have been thinking about those options,” Oliva added. “It’s an opportunity to help maybe identify or counsel kids in a direction that we might not have had data on them before.” Oliva, addressing Conklin’s concerns, said the district can try the blanket approach this year and monitor its outcomes. “

It doesn’t hurt to try,” Oliva said, “see how it goes, and then present what we’re finding and what we’re learning, and make decisions based in the future on that.”

Conklin then initially joined the board in unanimous approval of the program, but then asked to change her vote to a no.

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13 Responses for “In a 1st, Flagler Requires All Juniors to Take SAT, Raising Concerns About County’s Image If Grades Drop”

  1. Custodian Fred says:

    So this will tell us if our juniors should be promoted to Senior or they need to go back to Freshman ?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s a good idea to have an SAT free testing day to the students, but only those who want to take it. It should also be given AFTER the students have taken the prep classes. I wonder how many kids will call in sick that day????

  3. Tired says:

    Ms. Conklin really disappointed on this one, a true politician. And to think your past career was as an executive with the Florida Endowment Foundation. Every child deserves a hand up, not just the extremely intelligent one or the youth whose parents can afford the testings and the extra expenses that go along with attending college. Who cares what the perception is? This will be offering opportunities to youth in our community that may otherwise never even consider taking the SAT. Great job Shawn Schmidli!!

  4. Kendall says:

    What is going to be done for kids who are surprised to score as college ready and may be ill equipped to navigate the complex process of selection, application and funding college? It seems a waste to implement this and just leave it to the kids to figure out. The district claims counselors will help; I have two kids that graduated from high school here and can say the counselors are wonderful but terribly overworked. I know of several high potential recent graduates that did not have parental support with the process and could have used this kind of formalized guidance. Maybe a mentoring program should be established that would enable experienced and interested community members connect with students and families that don’t know where to start.

  5. Nancy N. says:

    Does the Superintendent and Board seriously think that there are juniors hiding under rocks in our district that aren’t planning on going to college that somehow have such amazing college potential that they can not only get good scores on the SAT but can get such great scores that “maybe they’ll get scholarships” and suddenly be able to afford college? Please, get real.

    All this is going to do is create yet ANOTHER round of mandatory testing for the school to teach to because they want as many kids as possible to get good scores to make the district look good. Mandating taking the test will be just the first step. Next will be the mandatory test prep courses and remedial sessions (like my daughter is going through now for the FCAT due to her autism.) ENOUGH IS ENOUGH with the damn testing, people!!!! We should be using LESS of it, not adding more!!!!

    And Ms Conklin is correct – the lowered test scores WILL affect property values and people’s impressions of the district because when they are comparing test scores across districts they aren’t going to understand that ALL of our kids take the test so the numbers are apples and oranges to a district where only the college-bound kids take the SAT. Potential homeowners are going to take one look at our SAT scores, decide our district is terrible – and take their investment elsewhere. We already have a problem with that with the FCAT concordance, so why are you bent on making it worse?

    If you have potential college-bound candidates who can’t afford the SAT, get the educational foundation to help with their fees or something. Don’t drag the whole district down.

    Also, can we please stop with the ridiculous “board votes need to be unanimous to show unity” philosophy? It’s impossible to know from a board member’s votes where they stand on ANYTHING because everyone is constantly voting against stuff they don’t like in the name of “unity”. We know that the board has internal disagreements. It’s how the system works. It shows that the board contains a variety of viewpoints and experiences. Please stop insulting our intelligence as voters by pretending you all agree on everything every time you vote.

  6. Liana G says:

    So Ms Conklin is more concerned with the school district’s phony image than with students and the district’s potential to improve and better themselves academically?

    Taking a test is like riding a bike, the more practice you get the better you become. You are no longer anxious, nervous, and scared. It becomes a norm and a part of everyday expectations. When these children are given the opportunity to take the SAT it may very well encourage them to think about college and better life prospects. Another bonus is that when they start receiving early information from colleges, this can serve as motivation.

    My 10th graders are receiving information from colleges from when they took the PSAT. They are so excited they are already researching and figuring out and making decisions on what they need to keep doing to get there. One such decision entails taking summer school to improve their math. They are both at risk for not being promoted to the 11th grade because their current math scores are preventing them from gaining the required credits for promotion. And since the school is under scrutiny for grade manipulation, the teachers cannot freely fudge their scores to make the school and themselves look good.

    This is what Ms Coklin should be concerned with for Flagler! Improve the academics outcomes in the schools and this will be reflected in the school district’s image. Good call by Mr Tucker and the new sup! And Kudos! The district needs more people representing them who are truly concerned with the students’ academic well-being instead of a phony and false image.

    My senior took the SAT last November(?) and scored a 2190 (I’m not sure if she ever took it while she was at FPC), when she received the results she wanted to retake it to shoot for a perfect score. We said no because she already had a full scholarship in the bag to one of the colleges of her choice. Good luck to all you Flagler juniors taking the SAT! Your school is offering you an opportunity to make the best decision of your life. Education is key!

  7. PCer says:

    Perhaps Mrs. Conklin would not be so concerned with dropping grades and it looing bad for the community if she was confident that the students were getting a good enough education to do well on the exam? Perhaps those students who are given a 50% for doing 0% of the work would be more motivated to get a better education than to just slide by with a C or D for giving as little effort as possible.

    Mr. Tucker mentioned kids on free and reduced lunch… the College Board offers waivers to students who get free and reduced lunch so they don’t have to pay for the exam. Aren’t our guidance counselors (and School Board members) aware of this? If not, why?

  8. Nancy N. says:

    Liana, how can you think that kids need more practice taking tests? They do nothing but take standardized tests from the time they are in 3rd grade, for heaven’s sake. Taking tests, frankly, is the skill our schools have become most proficient at teaching!

    PCer, you need a dose of reality. The SAT test is designed for kids who have taken advanced classes and who are college bound. Not every kid is capable of that level of academic achievement. That may not be where their talents lie. And that is fine. Not everyone has the kind of skills or talents that can be measured by the SAT. It’s one test measuring aptitude for a very narrow path to the future – there’s a whole wide world out there.

    But forcing kids to take a test that was designed for a level of academic achievement far over their heads only reinforces feelings of inferiority on these kids’ part and far from motivating them, may make them just give up.

    • PCer says:

      I am an educator and get plenty of reality each day. The reality is that students are not being adequately prepared for this or many other tests they may have to take to graduate or move on to the next level – whether they choose to go to college, the military, trade school, or no school at all once they leave Matanzas or FPC.

  9. Mr. Brilliant says:

    Don’t you have to TEACH the students information before you can TEST them on the information learned ?

  10. I Gotta Vent says:

    If students were adequately prepared for the exam, Ms. Conklin would not hesitate to approve of the mandatory testing. Instead of thinking about the potential residents we can lure to Palm Coast with “controlled” test scores that do not tell the true story, she should work toward fixing the problems that are the cause of her concern . In addition, students who may not have been identified as being college bound because they were overlooked, may be brought to the attention of the educators once their scores are evaluated. It is the district’s responsibility to draw out the potential in all students. Administering the test is not the only answer. Test preparation is key to the success of the students. I cannot wait to vote these malingerers out of office.

  11. Tampa Native says:

    Nancy N.,

    I do agree with you on one point that all students talents do not lie in going to college. However, saying that the SAT is designed for students who have taken advanced classes is ridiculous. Students can surprise you, which I did to my teachers and guidance counselors in school. I was in regular academic classes throughout high school, I never took AP or Honors courses, I was the run of the mill high school student. However, I wanted to attend college and paid to take the exam with money I earned bagging groceries at MacDill AFB. I took both the SAT and ACT, I scored a 1300 on the SAT and a 28 on the ACT. I was accepted to USF, FSU and UCF. Honors and advanced students are not the only ones who can succeed. Honors and advanced students do not always turn out to be the best college students either. Your view is narrow minded on this point.

  12. Mike says:

    I’ll hold off my comments on this until the results come in. I’d love to see a full breakdown and comparison.

    Then we can see if this was worthwhile.

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