High Cost of SAT-Prep Classes Hurt Low Income Students Aiming for College

When high school students take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), their shot at a college career often hangs in the balance.  Recognizing the importance of the standardized exam, many students take private preparatory classes that explain how the SAT differs from exams students are accustomed to taking in class. To succeed at the SAT, it is essential to understand test-taking strategies that are specific to this test, in addition to the subject area content.  But some students can’t afford the cost of the preparatory classes, and their results often suffer.

Connecticut’s 2011 Teacher of the Year is not happy about that.  Kristen Record, a Physics Teacher at Bunnell High School in Stratford, told an education forum in Hartford recently that her district previously offered all students an SAT-prep course, but dropped it as part of budget reductions.  Record noted that many families in Stratford – as in other Connecticut towns and cities, especially lower-income communities – cannot afford the fees of the private prep classes.

“Students take their first SAT in October of their senior year, cold, with no preparation, no guidance, no previous SAT-test taking experience.  It’s no wonder that many of them score below the state average,” she said.  Even when students retake the test a month later, it is often without any “intervention or guidance,” unfortunately leading to similar disappointing results - with potentially devastating consequences.

"In the classroom, teachers want to see attempts to answer every question," she said.  On the SAT, attempting to answer every question can be counterproductive.  “It can be the difference between being accepted to (college) or not being accepted,” Record said.

The state of Georgia offers high school students free access to the SAT Online Prep Course developed by the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT. The free SAT Online Prep Course is open to all Georgia high school students – public, private and home schooled.  In 2008, among Georgia's 2008 graduating seniors, the students who used the free SAT Prep Course scored, on average, a total of 48 points higher than those who did not.

In Roanoke, VA, Roanoke City Schools go even further, offering free SAT Prep Courses.  The district web site announces “these courses are free.  They are administered by Princeton Review.  If you were to pay for these courses on your own, it would cost you well over $600.”

Some local school districts in Connecticut continue to offer SAT prep courses, but for a fee.  In Hamden, the SAT prep course fee is $525.  In Stratford, it is $210.  In Branford it costs students $185, and in Danbury, $135.  The frequency and duration of the classes vary.

“Taking an SAT is different than taking a test in school,” Record said at the Oct. 22 forum sponsored by CT Mirror.   When students don’t know that going in, they often end up with scores that misrepresent their true ability – and lessen their chances of admission to college.

As Connecticut looks to close the achievement gap and prepare more students for college, the state’s Teacher of the Year is shining a bright light on another disparity in need of remedy – preparing students adequately  to take an exam that may determine whether a college admission office says yes, or no, to their application.