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More high school students take SAT

10/05/2011- The Berkshire Eagle

By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Over the weekend, students filed into classrooms by the thousands across the country to take the first Scholastic Aptitude Test offered this fall.

State government and education officials have announced that public school students' participation in the SAT exams has increased over the past year. They also noted that overall, student test scores have also improved.

In Berkshire County, both public and private high school guidance and administration officials say students are using PSAT, SAT and Advanced Placement tests to get a head start on their college careers. But they're seeking other avenues as well.

"From our perspective we see more kids taking the SAT as more kids are looking at college after high school as an option," said Mike Powell, a guidance counselor for Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington.

The SAT is a college admission exam, primarily assessing students' aptitude in mathematics, reading and writing. It's usually taken by high school juniors and seniors. The PSAT is a practice version of the SAT taken by sophomores and juniors. The Advanced Placement (AP) program offers college-level courses taken by high school students. Students who typically score a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale of the AP exam can often get credit for taking a college course in that subject.

The PSAT, SAT and AP exams are all administered nationally for a fee -- $14, $49 and $87, respectively -- by an organization called the College Board. Both the state and individual school districts often offer fee waivers and assistance for students.

In Berkshire County, students and schools are also using alternatives to test for showing student achievement and college readiness.

"As far as predictors of college readiness and success, there are a lot of other factors not included on the tests, but schools need an indicator. Why I think some schools are going test optional and asking students to submit things like a graded paper is to give them a glimpse into what an A means," said Loriann Moro, a guidance counselor at Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire.

At Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams and the Waldorf High School in Great Barrington, students create portfolios of their best work, from art to essays and scored tests, covering their high school career.

Many schools say they also offer honors or advanced-level courses that are equally as rigorous as the College Board AP exams. At some schools like Hoosac, more students have also become interested in taking another college entrance exam called The ACT, administered by a nonprofit organization by the same name.

"Not [every college] is looking at an AP student but rather looking at the challenging courses they took over the years," said McCann Technical High School Principal Kathleen Millard.

Although some colleges and universities have become "SAT-optional," meaning they no longer require SAT scores to be submitted as part of the college application process, the majority of students in Massachusetts continue to take the exam.

According to state data, 84 percent of state public high school students in the class of 2011 participated in the SAT, up from 75 percent last year. A total of 61,813 students took the SAT exam.

Massachusetts' participation rate ranks behind only two states: Maine (100 percent), where the SAT is used as the state-mandated No Child Left Behind assessment in high school, and New York (85 percent).

In Massachusetts, overall participation in AP exams by public school students rose by 9 percent in 2011. The enrollment trend includes some schools in the Berkshires.

In the 2007-2008 school year, for example, Drury High School in North Adams had 15 students enrolled in an AP English course. This year, it has 49 students enrolled in an AP English course, according to Tim Callahan, dean of curriculum and instruction and director of technology.

At Hoosac Valley, Moro said that interest in AP Psychology has grown so much that two class sections are now offered.

Taconic High School guidance counselor Susan Pivero said the Pittsfield Public Schools are a big proponent of all three of these college readiness exams. She agreed with state data that more students are taking them.

"I think [students] are appreciating the value the tests have for college acceptance and that we're doing a better job at letting them know the benefit. It also allows them to experience that level of rigor of work presented in college," Pivero said.

Pittsfield Public Schools offers the largest number of AP courses: 18 at Pittsfield High School and 11 at Taconic. The district also pays for all its students to take the PSATs.

In Berkshire County, participation in these exams is optional for students, except at the Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School, which lists itself as a college preparatory school.

According to college and internship counselor Barbara Robertson, BArT students are required to take the PSATs in the 10th and 11th grades, and students are required to take the SAT at least once during their high school career.

"We want them to be as prepared as possible," she said.

For more information and test schedules on college entrance exams visit www.collegeboard.org or www.act.org.