A flurry of publicity and news coverage followed the recent decision by the Hartford Board of Education when they rejected Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s request to renew a contract with the College Board, the organization that conducts the SATs, a standardized test used by many colleges as part of their application process.
For $100,000, the College Board allows Hartford juniors and seniors to take the SATs for “free.”
Last fall, 491 Hartford students took the test, while 868 students took the exam last spring.
For good or for bad, it is certainly important for students who plan to attend a four-year college to take the SATs.
On the other hand, it is equally important for students, parents and public officials to understand the truth behind the SATs and the entire academic testing industry.
Hartford’s public school students take more standardized tests than virtually any students, in any school system, in the United States. Between the requirements of the federal government’s “No Child Left Behind” Act, and former Hartford Superintendent of School’s Steven Adamowski’s approach that nothing is more important than testing, Hartford students spend upwards toward eight weeks a year taking standardized tests.
As if those tests weren’t enough, last year Superintendent Kishimoto mandated that all high school juniors take the SAT as part of her “college and career readiness” program. Why having all juniors take the SATs, when the test is exclusively used as a requirement for entry into some competitive colleges, is more than a bit bizarre.
Regardless, what has become clear is that more testing does not lead to better academic achievement.
As Hartford, and cities and towns across the state, try to make due with scarce resources, the Hartford School Board would be doing their students and their taxpayers a huge favor by reducing some of the unnecessary standardized testing, thereby freeing up funds to pay for college bound students to prepare and take the SATs.
While the SATs may be required for many colleges, simply giving students the opportunity to take the test for free is hardly the way to help students get scores that will get them into college. Furthermore, nearly 1,000 colleges have stopped using the SATs as part of their entrance process and more colleges are following that approach.
Students (and parents) also deserve to know the truth about what some universities consider an acceptable score.
At the University of Connecticut, students are primarily judged on how they do on two of the three modules that make up the SATs; the Math and Critical Reading sections. This year’s UConn freshman class scored an average of 1,216 on these two sections. By comparison, the average score in Connecticut for these two sections was 1,022, and the average score nationally was 1,011.
In Hartford, the last time the test was given, the average score was 736 on these two sections.
While familiarity with the SATs boosts scores by a few points, free access to the test is not going to unilaterally provide students with the scores they will need to compete for an acceptance letter from a competitive four-year college.
Preparing for the SATs is critical. The College Board’s approach of trading $100,000 for free tests is not.
In addition, policy makers should understand exactly who or what the College Board is.
First off, the College Board is a “non-profit” company the has revenues of more than $721 million. Even AFTER it paid all of its bills, it made $71 million dollars last year.
The College Board’s president makes $1.4 million in salary and benefits and the Chief Operating Officer collects more than $600,000. In fact, there are more than 21 employees, whose compensation package is well over $200,000.
The College Board even spends more than a quarter of a million dollars a year lobbying Congress.
If the College Board really wanted to do more for low-income students, it could.
It appears that Hartford Board of Education is holding a special meeting tonight to reconsider its decision. As the Chairman of the board, Matthew Poland says “Ultimately, we have to do the right thing for our students.” The Superintendent’s poor handling of the situation may require the Board to cough up the $100,000, but what is best for the students is to ensure that every Hartford junior or senior who is considering applying to college is allowed to prepare for, and take, the SATs. A $100,000 contract with the College Board is almost certainly not the best way to achieve that goal.