Sunday, October 4, 2009

PSAT - Is this Part of the Instructional Program?

Will your child be sitting for the PSAT on Wednesday Oct. 14 in a Montgomery County Public School High School?

Apparently, some schools are experiencing issues with paying for the tests. Here is an edited e-mail that appeared on one school's parent list.

Next week our 10th and 11th grade students will be taking the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. In years past, MCPS paid for all students to take the test. This year, because of budget restrictions the county will not pay for 11th graders. But 11th grade is an important year for the PSAT. The test results from 11th grade testing determines a students eligibility for National Merit Scholarships. [material deleted] For all students, the PSAT results prompt colleges to begin to reach out to students to encourage applications. The administration has secured a limited number of fee waivers from the College Board, but not nearly enough to cover the number of students who they believe will be unable to pay the $13 test fee.

Our school administration and the counseling department have asked for our support to make sure that all students can take the test and have the results scored and circulated by the College Board. [material deleted] As you well know, our PTSA budget cannot provide this amount at this time. If you can afford to make a donation to defray the costs of the test for another student or students, please do so. [material deleted]

So - while I feel for the students and PTSAs who are asked to pick up the tab for this test, I'd advise thinking before you proceed further.

1. Do tenth graders really need to have their exams scored and circulated by the College Board?
2. Aren't fee waivers available from the College Board or school district?
3. If the exam is given as part of the school day, with attendance taken, isn't this exercise part of the instructional program?

Question 1. Short answer - No.
Brief Constructed Response (BCR) Earlier this year I posted a caution to parents in Potomac about paying for exam preparation for a practice test. Yes, the PSAT is a practice test, in preparation for the SAT that some, but not all, colleges require. You can read about the PSAT on the College Board webpage, but note - only the scores taken in the junior year count for the scholarship programs. The other benefits from taking the exam? All of the reasons for taking the exam - identification of strengths and weaknesses, a measure of performance to others applying to colleges, and familiarity with SAT questions - can be accomplished without having the scores sent to the College Board.

And yes, parents should be aware of alternatives to taking a practice practice exam. Preparation materials and sample exams are available in the public libraries for free. Also, many exam prep courses offer diagnostic exams - again, for free. If the school in question has limited funds, its the 11th graders who should have the test picked up for free. Little purpose is served by having 10th graders receive a score report from College Board.

Question 2. Short answer - the College Board provides fee waivers.
Brief Constructed Response - From the College Board website:
The College Board makes fee waivers available to schools for students in eleventh grade from low-income families who can't afford the test fee. See your counselor for more information about fee waivers.

Those of us with kids in MCPS have noticed that the pricing varies from school to school. Did you know that Walter Johnson doesn't charge 10th or 11th graders for taking the PSAT? According to their website:
This year, all eleventh and tenth grade students are required to take the official 2009 PSAT exam, for which there is no fee or registration procedure, which will be scored by Educational Testing Service. Juniors whose PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test Selection Index scores are high and who meet all requirements for participating in National Merit Scholarship programs will be considered for recognition and scholarships.

How did they do that? Obviously, there is more green at WJ than just on the athletic fields. Last year, Magruder HS did not charge 10th and 11th graders.

Of particular note is that some school districts negotiate for better pricing.

The State of Indiana negotiated a $10.4 per test fee.

So - why doesn't the 16th largest school district in the country negotiate a better fee schedule?

3. Short answer. Yes, this is part of the school day.
BCR - If a school expects students to show up, takes attendance, and marks students as tardy or absent, then its a normal school day. If the exam is given in place of instruction, as part of the school's program.

Those of you who have been following our blog know what comes next.

The Maryland Constitution provides for a free public education. This looks like a fee for a part of the curriculum in the school and is illegal. If an exam is given in school as part of the school program, the school system cannot charge a fee. College board scoring or not, a school day's replacement for its normal instructional program must be provided to all students, regardless of their ability to pay.

So - to the school that is soliciting parental contributions? You can stop right now. The next post on your listserve should be that the school has decided to follow the lead of Magruder and Walter Johnson, and will provide the PSAT for free on October 14. Checks will be mailed out to reimburse those students who have submitted payment for an activity that is part of the school's instructional program.

And to the principals who seek PTSA assistance? Go to your superintendent first, and be sure that the same rules apply to all schools, not just to the ones who are clever enough to ask.


  1. Why the drumbeat of achieving 100% participation? What is that all about and where is that pressure coming from?

  2. 10th graders are being tested so that MCPS can decide who to put in AP classes (The decision are based on PSAT scores).

  3. I had heard previously that MCPS wanted 100 percent participation so they could decide who should be in AP courses. Then I read somewhere that MCPS also was developing, or had developed, a software program to use as a predictor for this purpose. THEN I saw that the college board has a FREE program that they offer to school systems that does the same thing.
    How much did MCPS spend to develop its own program?


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