COLLEGE PARK –For the first time, Prince George’s County offered on Wednesday a free practice SAT for all high school seniors during the normal school day.
In Baltimore County, schools are for the first time paying registration fees for eleventh grade students taking the SAT in the spring.
The moves are part of a broader, nationwide effort to better prepare low-income students to compete for college admission against wealthier students who have access to expensive SAT prep courses.
“It’s part of a concentrated effort to make students aware that the opportunity of higher education is out there,” said Charles Herndon, a spokesperson for Baltimore County Public Schools.
In Prince George’s County, 53 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. In Baltimore County, nearly 45 percent of students get free or reduced-price lunch.
The Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, a public high school in Baltimore County, is one school building on previous efforts to make the SAT more accessible to all students. They currently offer a SAT prep course along with other materials, like books, at no cost to students or their families.
Ajay Jani, 16, took the prep course last year. “Half the class was math, taught by a math teacher, and the second half was reading and writing, taught by an English teacher,” he said. “It was optional–it counted as an elective. It was a pretty small class.”
Teachers also stayed after school for review sessions before test dates, Jani said. The class was the only structured practice he will complete before taking the SAT in the spring of 2013. Most of his friends won’t prepare using private companies or tutors.
Tutoring companies like Kaplan offer SAT prep packages that range in price from $299 to $999. PowerScore, another company, has a 35-hour private tutoring package that costs $4,400.
Christian Miller, 16, of Montgomery County, took a course through Revolution Prep that included class time and private tutoring. The class cost $500 and the tutoring was an additional $1300.
Montgomery County has a median household income of over $90,000 and had a countywide average SAT score in 2012 that was 184 points above the statewide average. Baltimore County had a countywide average that was nine points above the state, and Prince George’s County was 193 below.
“I think it was more practice, actually, than learning from the company, but they taught me some useful skills,” Miller said. “They assigned homework, but [I did] nothing beyond what Revolution Prep told me to do.”
His parents didn’t force him to take the class, but were happy with his decision to use a formal prep company. “It’s probably a better way for him, through a guided course than on his own. It’s not unlike a lot of other young people who aren’t able to discipline themselves,” his father, Peter Miller, said.
Christian scored 1800 out of 2400 points on his first diagnostic exam and is now hoping to score over a 2310 on the real exam, which he took on Oct. 6. That’s more than a 500 point increase.
The College Board, which created the SAT, offers their own test prep options on their website, like the official online course, though none include specialized tutoring or in-person classes. They do not endorse SAT prep companies and do not license materials to them.
During the 2010-2011 school year, the College Board opened 900 more testing centers to increase access to the test. They also offers waivers for financially eligible students. The board waived the $50 fee for 27 percent of students who took the SAT and graduated in 2012.
Data from the College Board indicates that household income levels correlate with test scores. The higher the parents’ income and the higher their education levels, the more likely their children will do well on the SAT.
Leslie Sepuka, the director of regional communications for the College Board, said the correlation is the result of education inequality, and not the fault of the test.
“Colleges have never used SAT scores alone in admission decisions, and the College Board has always advocated that the best use of the SAT is in combination with high school grades and other valid measures,” Sepuka said.