Idaho Pays For SAT To Boost College Enrollment

May 10, 2012

Results come out Thursday from Idaho’s first mandated SAT exam. The state paid the tab for more than 16,000 high school juniors to take the college entrance exam this year. It cost tax payers more than $900,000.

Joe Lovelace is a junior at Boise High. He wants a score that will get him in to Dartmouth or Cornell. Lovelace says he’ll check the SAT website first thing. “I have to leave for school about 6:15 to get to jazz band, " he says.  So he'll probably try to check his score around 5:45.

Not all the juniors who took the SAT last month are as keen to get the results. Take Lovelace’s Boise High classmates Patrick Kruger and Xandra Bonar. “We’ll see what happens, I’m not super anxious," Bonar says. Kruger ads, "whatever happens happens I guess.  I don’t really need it so, not really too anxious.”

Kruger says the colleges he’s interested in take the ACT and Bonar is sure her scores will be good enough for in-state schools. But both plan to go to college.

Tracie Bent, the chief policy officer with Idaho’s Board of Education says when the board started crafting new graduation requirements there was one problem it wanted to address.

“We have a great high school graduation rate. We have a poor college entry rate, so what can we do to shrink that gap. There were a number of studies that just showed students who took that exam were more likely to go on,” bent says.

Students in the class of 2013 and beyond must take a college entrance exam to graduate. Three other tests meet that requirement including the ACT. But it’s the SAT the state is paying for. Bent says Idaho will watch college enrollment figures closely but even if there’s an increase she won’t be able to directly attribute it to college entrance exams.

“It will be difficult," she says. "Because we have so many different things going in to place, to know exactly which one of the different initiatives was the thing that made a difference.”

Bent says the state will try to measure the effectiveness of the entrance exam requirement but it will take a while. If Maine is an example it could take years. Maine is one of two other states that pay for students to take the SAT. Dan Hupp is director of Standards and Assessment at the Maine Department of Education. Hupp says his state has seen increased college attendance in the six years they’ve been doing it, but he can’t say it’s because of the testing. “There have been some initial studies. They are not as hard a numbers as we would like," he says.

But high school junior Xandra Bonar says she thinks it’s a good investment for the state, even if she’s not very interested in her results. “Because anything could happen in the future. Like, you may not want to go to college and then, ten years later you’re like hey, I want to get a college degree. So I think it’s defiantly worth it to pay for everybody.

Classmate Joe Lovelace agrees. He says he knows a lot of people who couldn’t afford to pay for the SAT, but by taking it they may find they have options they never considered.