Hartford School Board Rejects SAT Testing Contract, Leaving Seniors Scrambling For New Locations
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
September 21, 2012
HARTFORD — — The school board rejected a proposal from Superintendent Christina Kishimoto this week to renew a $100,000 contract with the College Board to provide free SAT testing to all city juniors and seniors.
On Friday, the majority of seniors at Hartford Public High School left their classes to get in line for fee waivers at 9 a.m. A teacher came around Thursday afternoon to announce that the 45 fee waivers would be available to the first seniors in line at 9:30.
The students told their teachers that they needed to get in line, according to Christian Rodriguez, a senior. While the students were lined up, the administration decided to grant the waivers to the top 45 students by GPA, she said.
City high schools had been prepping students to take the SAT on Oct. 17 during the school day. Seniors at the Law and Government Academy, for example, had been advised to begin mailing college applications in November.
The College Board offers national SAT testing on the first Saturday of the month this fall. Monday is the late registration deadline for the Oct. 6 test date. The cost is $50, plus an extra $27 for the late fee, and one of two Hartford sites is already full.
Now some high school seniors who planned to take the college entrance exam next month to improve their scores are scrambling to find registration money and transportation to other testing sites.
"I don't have $77 to take out of my pocket at the last minute," Rodriguez said. "If you knew you weren't going to sign the contract – you gave us two days to get the money before the deadline.
"I just feel it was very wrong," she said.
"The kids are outraged," said Adam Johnson, principal of Hartford Public High School's Law and Government Academy, on Thursday. Emotions were still running high Friday.
Most students returned to their classes after the waivers were distributed, but many were upset. Later in the morning, some girls were crying in the bathrooms and talking to social workers, according to Johnson.
Johnson said he decided Friday to hand the fee waivers out based on cumulative GPA to make things fair, but he worried that might send a message "that only these high-achieving students are going to college."
He tried to assure them that all of them will have a chance to take the test, he said.
The students will have the opportunity to take the Nov. 3 test, but many are scrambling to find the money and sign up at a location offering the Oct. 6 test "because they were all primed and ready to take it Oct. 17" in school, Johnson said.
"In the long run, this is helping them learn a lot of the lessons they'll need to learn as seniors," he said.
School staff were notified about the nonrenewal in an email Thursday from the central office.
Charlene Senteio, a school counselor at Hartford Public, said Thursday fee waivers usually take about 10 days to be approved. They can also try planning for the November test date.
"We've instituted a practice like this... to tear down barriers," Johnson said of the city's in-class SAT testing. "It's like we've pulled the rug out from under these kids."
For the first time, the school system last year mandated that all high school juniors take the SAT as part of Kishimoto's "college and career readiness" push to help prepare students for life after graduation.
In the past, she said, some Hartford students started to think about four-year colleges during senior year, but had not realized they needed SAT (or ACT) scores in their application. Kishimoto said she wanted to remove obstacles to taking the test.
The SAT was administered last October to 491 students in Hartford classrooms. In April, 868 students took the exam during the day.
The scores, presented publicly this summer, appeared to jolt school administrators and board members.
The average score for the April test was 367 in critical reading, 369 in math and 384 in writing. Scores were lower for the October test-takers. The range of possible scores on the SAT is 200 to 800 per section.
National data show that SAT scores strongly correlate to a student's family income.
At Tuesday's school board meeting, Kishimoto presented an agenda item calling for a yearlong extension of the College Board contract "due to the success of this partnership," which included individualized student reports and PSAT testing.
Several board members disputed the word "success" in light of the scores.
Richard Wareing, the only member who supported the contract, said he was "perplexed" that the testing could be described as successful.
"Why do you have 40 percent of these students going into a failing situation and spend $100,000 to do it?" asked Elizabeth Brad Noel, a retired Weaver High School guidance counselor. "I think this is really not the way to spend all our money."
Robert Cotto Jr. suggested that students could be discouraged from persuing college if they receive a low SAT score. Luis Rodriguez-Davila, in a thinly veiled warning to Kishimoto, said the scores must improve or "somebody has to respond for it."
Kishimoto said her target for the first year was receiving "baseline" data that will guide an improvement plan that administrators are still working on. "So the goal of implementation was, in fact, successful," Kishimoto told the board.
But board Chairman Matthew Poland argued that it is "too early for us to be making this kind of commitment before we see the framework."
On Thursday, Hartford senior Tonya Jerrick said she has been studying for the SAT over the summer and on recent Saturdays so she can improve her spring score of 1200.
"I know, personally, I can do way much better," said Jerrick, 17, who wants to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and major in sociology. She planned for the in-class SAT but now figures she will need to spend the weekend making alternate arrangements.
"I just found out last period," she said. "What really gets to me is, how am I supposed to get [$77] by Monday? It's so last-minute, unprepared and everything."
Staff Writer Julie Stagis contributed to this report.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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