City to pay for all 11th-graders to take SAT during the school day

The city will pay for all 11th-graders to take the SAT at their own schools during class time beginning in spring 2017, officials said Monday, one of a number of new efforts by Mayor Bill de Blasio to help more city graduates reach college.

The initiative, which will cost the city an estimated $1.8 million per year, is meant to free students from having to register for the test, request a fee waiver, or travel to a testing site on a Saturday morning. It follows de Blasio’s promise last month to get every middle-school student to visit a college campus, and more high-school students to take advanced courses, in order to funnel more students into college.

“This is saying, we believe in you, we know you are ready to go to college,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday, adding that the SAT initiative will be paired with new teacher training, classroom materials, and parent workshops that focus on preparing students for college.

Most four-year colleges require applicants to submit either SAT or ACT standardized test scores. Still, just over half of last year’s graduating class had taken the SAT, city officials said.

New York City joins more than 100 school districts, along with six states and the District of Columbia, that will pay for students to take the SAT during the school day this academic year, according to the College Board, the nonprofit that owns the test. The College Board also oversees Advanced Placement courses, which de Blasio has promised to add to every high school by 2021 at an annual cost of $51 million when fully in place.

More than 90 city high schools will pilot the free school-day SAT for juniors this spring. Most high schools already administer the practice SAT to sophomores and juniors during the school day, which has nearly tripled the number of students taking that test, officials said.

The new program will ease the college-admissions process for many students, predicted Michele Hill, the college and career director at Brooklyn Generation School in Canarsie. She said some students who in the past failed to register for the weekend SAT administrations at their campus had to travel to testing sites in Staten Island or New Jersey. The new program will keep those students from having to travel, and may reduce some anxiety as they sit for the tests in a familiar setting.

“I think it will be great,” she said.

Last year, city students saw their SAT scores inch up, even as scores fell nationwide and in New York State in math and writing. Still, the city’s scores trail the national average and fall far short of the level that is considered a predictor of success in college.

While the new initiative should ramp up the number of city students taking the SAT, it may actually lower the city’s average scores as a wider range of students sit for the tests. Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg said he expected SAT scores to continue rising, though he said that is not the city’s ultimate goal.

“Really this isn’t about a test score result,” he said. “This is about better education throughout every single one of our schools.”

The SAT costs $54.50 per student, though most low-income students are eligible for fee waivers. Under the new initiative, the city will pay the College Board $34 for each test, officials said.

The deal comes as the SAT is losing ground to the its longtime rival, the ACT. Across the country, more students in the class of 2015 took the ACT than the SAT, and an increasing number of states are paying for all students to take the ACT.

Many states that require all high school students to take one of those exams use it meet federal testing mandates, but New York gives a separate set of tests. That means New York City students will take the SAT in school in additional to the other exams, even as state officials, and most recently President Obama, have called for students to spend less class time taking tests.

“It’s very curious timing to add more testing to New York City schools without reducing any,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an advocacy group that calls for limits on standardized testing.

Correction: This story has been revised to reflect the current of number of states and districts offering the SAT to students for free during the school day.