Significant Gains Made in 10th Grade PSAT Participation

August 19, 2003
The number of tenth grade students taking the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) as a way of establishing a personal benchmark in preparation for more rigorous studies and assessing their readiness for college has increased substantially in the Montgomery County Public Schools over the past three years, rising from just 30 percent of sophomores in the fall of 1999 to 82.5 percent of last year's class.

The dramatic increase has been achieved among every race and ethnic group, as the school system continues to expand opportunities for student success.

A new report by the Office of Shared Accountability (OSA) shows that in the 2002-2003 school year, the PSAT was taken by 8,954 tenth grade students, the largest number ever taking the test in the school system and among the highest percentages in Maryland. The participation rate across Maryland last year is estimated at 65 percent, compared with 82.5 percent in Montgomery County.

At the same time, the average verbal, math, and writing scores on the PSAT have remained relatively constant since 2001, even though the number of tenth graders taking the PSAT nearly tripled in one year, from just 2,885 students (30.4 percent of the class) in the 1999-2000 school year to 8,174 students (81 percent) the following year. The most recent test was taken on Tuesday, October 15, 2002, at the height of the sniper incident.

“I believe even higher levels of participation are possible as high schools continue to encourage more students to aspire to higher levels of academic studies,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education. He noted that as a national exam the PSAT is an increasingly important component of the ongoing efforts to provide more opportunities for student participation in higher-level academics.

“I strongly believe that as the PSAT becomes more ingrained as a standard within our schools -- and other ongoing educational reforms continue to make progress -- the academic potential and achievement of our students will improve as well,” Dr. Weast said.

“The offering of the PSAT in the tenth grade serves as an 'early warning' signal to students who might not otherwise take the necessary steps to prepare themselves for more rigorous studies, and it provides our schools with another important opportunity to identify students who may have untapped capabilities that might not be otherwise apparent,” Dr. Weast said. “I am deeply encouraged by the progress made thus far, and I want to congratulate our high school principals and staff for their commitment to the higher standards this assessment represents.”

The expansion of the PSAT has had an immediate influence in key areas of student participation.

For example, the percentage of African American students taking the test increased from just 15.7 percent in the 2000-2001 school year to 74.4 percent last year. Among Hispanic students, the participation rate increased from 13.8 percent to 68.6 percent. The expansion of the PSAT program was systemwide, with the participation rate increasing from 44.4 percent in 2000 to 90.2 percent last year among Asian American students and from 36.8 percent to 88.6 percent among white students.

The new report noted that the greatest gains in student participation were among students in non-honors and lower-level mathematics and English courses.

The participation rate increased significantly, for example, among students taking regular English in tenth grade, from 18 percent in October 1999 to 80 percent in October 2002. In most Honors and other advanced courses, the participation rate on the PSAT doubled and now includes nearly all students in those courses.

Other Highlights:

* Preliminary research by OSA also is beginning to show that PSAT data can be used by students and staff to predict potential success in three important areas of high school outcomes: (1) attaining at least a score of “3” or higher on a related Advanced Placement test; (2) attaining at least 550 on a related SAT score; and (3) reduction in the likelihood for remedial course-taking upon college entry. The score ranges on the PSAT can be used by school staff to encourage and support students in taking more challenging academic courses and in preparing themselves for post-high school studies.

* High school principals, teachers, and guidance counselors are using the results of the exam to provide students with an early assessment of their readiness for more rigorous studies during the final two years of high school, including enrollment in Honors and Advanced Placement courses and other preparation for college.

* The implementation of the PSAT as a free service of the school system was begun in the 2000-2001 school year as part of the comprehensive reform efforts approved by the Board of Education.

* The testing opportunity is intended for tenth grade students who are in the regular high school degree program, not including certain special education students in certificate programs, students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, and students who are absent on the testing date.

* The implementation of the PSAT in tenth grade began following reports on the relatively low student participation rate in Honors and Advanced Placement courses, inadequate student preparation for the SAT, and a comparatively high rate of remediation in mathematics and English among students who enroll at Montgomery College after graduating from high school. Improvements continue to be made in all areas, and 20 of 23 high schools were recently named among the top schools in the nation by Newsweek magazine based on an analysis of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing.

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