SAT as State Test Benefits Students, Schools

Nearly a year ago, this newspaper wrote an editorial, and I wrote a column touting the merits of using the ACT or SAT as the required high school statewide assessment in West Virginia. We got our wish. The West Virginia State Board of Education will now require high schools to administer the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to all juniors, beginning in the spring.

Many students and teachers are applauding the choice made by the board. In the past, West Virginia has relied upon the Smarter Balanced, WESTEST and WESTEST 2 Statewide High School Assessments to gauge student proficiency in English and math.

With previous assessments, only the high school was graded on student results, so doing well or doing poorly on the exam made no difference to the students. “Previous statewide assessments only meant something to the school districts,” said Lisa Kiss, a John Marshall High School English instructor who teaches juniors. “Students view the SAT as meaningful because it has implications toward their future.”

Choosing the SAT makes it meaningful for the students because there are numerous incentives for doing well on the exam. SAT scores are used for college admission, and colleges often use the scores to award scholarships. Many offer differing levels of scholarships: The higher the SAT score, the higher the scholarship. The SAT score is also used as a qualifier for the West Virginia Promise Scholarship; students who score at least 1100 on the exam, with at least 540 in reading and writing and 510 in math, are eligible for $4,750 per year for tuition. With future scholarship money on the line, it is in a student’s best interest to do well on the statewide assessment. They now have a reason to care about the results.

“I am pleased with the choice to administer the SAT. Instead of taking a meaningless test, students now have the opportunity to take a logic-based assessment accepted by most colleges,” said junior Luke Utt.

Classmate Emily Wright agrees. “Taking the SAT will motivate students to want a better score since scholarship money is involved,” she said. “It’s great because students will not have to pay for the test, and they can take it during school.”

Choosing the SAT means every student in the state will take a college entrance exam for free, an added financial benefit for students and their families. Junior Pahri Cullen believes this perk will increase the number of students who may decide to go to college.

“Using the SAT gives more kids the opportunity to apply to colleges and test their ability to do well in college,” said Cullen. “In the past, some students have chosen not to take a college entrance exam because of the cost. Now, students do not have to worry because it will be free. This could likely increase the number of students enrolling in colleges across the state.”

Juniors who didn’t think a college education was possible because of the cost could discover their SAT scores are high enough to be admitted to college and receive some academic scholarships. Being required to take the exam may allow them to see their abilities in an entirely new light.

Marshall County Schools Assistant Superintendent Corey Murphy mentions yet another reason the SAT is a good choice: “Using this national assessment will allow the district and our students to compare their performance with other students across the country. This comparison benefits our students as they look beyond high school.”

Previous statewide assessments did not allow us to accurately see how our students stacked up to those outside the state. “By using the SAT, we can now get a better understanding of where we stand, not only in the state but more importantly, on a national scale,” junior Sara Woods said.

The major complaint school districts had about the previous statewide assessment was that the data was faulty because many students did not put forth their best effort on the exam. It is unfair to judge a school or change a curriculum based on invalid data. If students try their best on the SAT, school districts will receive valid data and can feel confident in evaluating their schools and curricula. The students benefit; the schools benefit. It’s a win-win.

Jonna Kuskey is an English teacher at John Marshall High School. She was the 2014 Marshall County Teacher of the Year and a 2014 West Virginia Teacher of the Year finalist.