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Participation in college exams is encouraging trend

Posted: November 4, 2011 - 12:03am

This editorial first appered in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Educational statistics tend not to move much each year, so when one does, it’s a good indication something important is happening.

Last month, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District reported such a statistical change: Far more Fairbanks-area graduates took college entrance exams this year than last.

In the 2010-11 school year, 59 percent of graduates took either the SAT or ACT college entrance exams. That compared to 51 percent of graduates in the 2009-10 school year.

An increase of 8 percentage points in participation is a huge increase for one year. So what is driving the change?

A district analyst, speaking to the school board earlier this month, identified what appears to be the most likely explanation — availability of the new Alaska Performance Scholarship.

The Legislature created the scholarship program at the urging of Gov. Sean Parnell in 2010. It offers college or career training tuition at an Alaska institution to any Alaska high school graduate who completes a set of requirements. One of the requirements is to take either the SAT or ACT.

That creates a strong incentive for students to attend one of the several test sessions held in Fairbanks each year.

The increase in student test-taking was consistent across almost all demographic groups, another indication the performance scholarship was the primary driver.

It appears the additional students weren’t quite as prepared as those who would have taken the test anyway, because the average scores declined. For example, the average SAT scores in reading dropped by about 2 percent, math by 2.5 percent and writing by 4 percent. While some SAT scores have been declining anyway, those were steeper than might otherwise have been expected.

The decline is less worrisome, though, knowing it probably was because of the bump up in participation. And that bump up is encouraging.

It shows more students are thinking seriously about getting additional education after high school, either in college or a career training program. That can only be a good thing, not only for them but for Alaska.

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