New York City Will Give Free SAT Testing to High-School Juniors

By
SAT preparation books
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

High-school juniors in New York’s public schools will no longer have to pay to suffer through the SATs. The Department of Education announced the new initiative Monday, though it won’t go into effect until the spring of next school year. The SAT exam, which is still a requirement for many college applications, costs more than $50 to take, according to the College Board’s website, the group that administers the test.

New York City is trying to take away some of the roadblocks that might prevent some students, especially those who come from lower-income families, from taking the test. In addition to no fees, schools will also provide the test during the regular school day to bolster participation. High schools won’t make the test mandatory, but NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña said the initiative was one of many new programs to make it easier for students to go to college after graduation. The Times reports that just a little more than 50 percent of the city schools’ class of 2015 took the SATs at least one time.

The city’s new plan follows a small shake-up in New York State’s education world. Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch said Monday she was stepping down from her post when her term is up in March. Tisch, who oversees the statewide testing (the “Regents,” for those New Yorkers who had to endure them), has held the post since 2009 and served on the Board of Regents since 1996. Her tenure had its rough patches, as Tisch, along with former state education commissioner John King — who will soon replace Arne Duncan as acting U.S. secretary of Education — oversaw the implementation of Common Core standards in schools. According to Chalkbeat New York, she was a central figure in the push to tie test scores to teacher evaluations — and so was at the center of parent and teacher backlash, too. 

That uproar over standardized testing — in New York and elsewhere across the country — did achieve something of a win after a big weekend announcement by the Obama administration that condemned the outsize role of testing in classrooms. President Obama appeared in a short Facebook video that signaled a desire to reevaluate the emphasis on standardized testing, saying they should be an indicator, but not the be-all and end-all, of how “our students and schools are doing.”

I hear from parents who worry about too much testing,” President Obama said in the video, “and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to the test that it takes out all the joy out of teaching and learning for both them and the students. I want to fix that.”

Obama’s remarks accompanied the release of the Department of Education’s new “Testing Action Plan” that outlined goals for fewer and “smarter” testing, a document welcomed by many teachers unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, and education advocates. The guidelines are not mandatory — and they won’t take away or replace federal standardized-testing requirements for certain grades — but the administration did cop to its own responsibility for the intense testing culture, admitting that “unnecessary testing” is a burden on both students and teachers. According to USA Today, from pre-K to the end of 12th grade, the average public-school student in America takes nearly 112 required standardized tests.

The plan includes such benchmarks as limiting testing to just 2 percent of classroom time and making sure testing is high-quality and advances students’ learning. It also calls for more transparency between parents and schools about what kinds of tests kids are taking. The plan doesn’t give specifics on how states or school districts should implement these changes, but it did say the administration will work with schools, including offering financial support, as they adjust their testing priorities.