Thousands of students take SATs free

Nearly 20,000 Idaho juniors took the SAT college entrance exam Wednesday – all on the state’s dime.

Coeur d'Alene Academy 2
Students at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy scored the highest on the SAT test in 2014, according to state figures.

For the fourth straight year, the state sponsored SAT Day, where the test was administered free of charge in schools across the state.

Jeff Church, a spokesman for the Idaho State Department of Education, said 18,923 juniors were expected to take the test Wednesday at $42.50 apiece, for a total state cost of $804,227.50.

One benefit state officials see is providing the test for low-income students or pupils who may not have considered continuing their education after high school.

“Students who thought they were not college- or career-ready are given the opportunity to see otherwise,” Church said.

Across the state, district officials administered the test in different ways.

In the Idaho Falls School District, for example, school was cancelled at Idaho Falls, Skyline and Compass Academy for freshmen, sophomores and seniors Wednesday. Educators and exam proctors focused on administering the SAT for small groups of juniors “so we can provide a much better testing environment for them take it in classes, rather than the gym or cafeteria,” district spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne said.

Idaho Falls High School counselor Danette Gneiting said students are excited about the opportunity, and often feel more comfortable taking it in their own classroom surrounded by familiar faces in small groups of 19 students or less.

Her school planned to devote about five hours to testing.

SAT“The benefit, of course, is it’s getting paid for,” Gneiting said. “Another positive is they can do it during the school day, not on a Saturday and they don’t have to worry about taking time off or worrying about other things in that time.”

Gneiting recommends students take college entrance exams twice, in hopes they may improve their score. Having the state pay for one test relieves a financial burden.

Boise Superintendent Don Coberly was preparing for more than 90 percent of the district’s juniors to complete the SAT. Many Boise and Idaho Falls students take the ACT test as well or instead, depending on where they hope to attend college. But Coberly said a free crack at the SAT is always a nice option.

Offering the SAT also works well because the state also pays for sophomores to take the related PSAT test.

“Since the SAT covers most of the same topics (as the PSAT) at least we’re able to use that information to help us in our weaker areas — and stronger areas as well,” Coberly said

Boise High School Principal Amy Kohlmeier said about 500 juniors took the test this week, nearly the entire student body. Those students were divided up alphabetically and able to take the test in one of numerous different classrooms.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity we have,” Kohlmeier said “Before the SAT was paid for by the state, we had large numbers of students take the SAT anyway, so now it just opens it up so all student can take it.”

Idaho Falls and Boise officials don’t believe the state-sponsored tests themselves improve the state’s 60 percent go-on goal. But they know paying for the test has led to a pronounced uptick in the number of students who take college entrance exams. Coberly said 40 to 42 percent of Boise students took the SAT before it was offered free.

Last year, Coberly said, 91 percent of Boise students and 92 percent of West Ada (then called Meridian Joint School District No. 2) students completed the SAT.

Statewide, fewer than 3,000 students took the SAT, before it was state-sponsored, according to past figures issued by former Superintendent Tom Luna’s administration. That number jumped to 16,566 students in 2012 and 17,306 in 2013.

“Our kids are fired up for it, and they are excited to participate,” Coberly said. “It is something they gear up for, and we make sure the kids are ready to go.”

Starting with the class of 2013, completing a college entrance exam has been a high school graduation requirement, and the state has helped students meet that requirement by paying for juniors to take the SAT or ACCUPLACER tests.

Sophomores are also eligible to take the PSAT test in the fall.

Last year, Idaho students averaged 1,363 on SAT Day, up slightly from the 2013 average of 1,354. A perfect score is 2,400.