Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Should T/E School District Offer the PSAT to 9th Graders? Radnor School District to Fund Student’s PSAT Tests

I read the following update on the Radnor School District in the Main Line Suburban:

Assistant superintendent Kim Maguire outlined a plan to the Curriculum Committee that would have all Radnor ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-graders take the PSAT in October with school-district funding and with across-the-board scores allowing teachers to “check for trends [as well as] individual student trajectories.” The hope, Maguire said, “is that students will be more motivated.”

Asked if she meant more than for PSSAs, Maguire answered, “Yes.” Superintendent Linda Grobman said the school district would be able to “use the [test-score] information to help plan the instructional program.”

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT) is a standardized test administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Other than practice for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a high score on the PSAT is the only way to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT is great practice for the SAT as the results provide a sense of strengths and weaknesses.

The PSAT is offered for Conestoga High School students in their Sophomore and Junior years as preparation for the SAT exam. Radnor High School likewise offers the PSAT to their students in the tenth and eleventh grades. According to the article, the Radnor School District is suggesting that the District will offer the PSAT to the ninth graders in addition to the tenth and eleventh-graders.

Last month when there was discussion on Community Matters of Newsweek’s ‘best of high school’ lists, some commentors suggesting that T/E didn’t need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ — that everyone knows that Conestoga High School is a great high school and the fact that it didn’t appear on Newsweek’s list was of little consequence. The jury may still be out on the importance (or impact) of Newsweek’s high school rankings, but the PSAT is another issue.

The PSAT is viewed as great practice for the taking of the SAT — and we now read that Radnor School District is discussing adding another practice PSAT year. Can we assume that if a student takes the practice exam three times before taking the SAT, that the student’s SAT scores will go up?

If a student takes the PSAT in both the ninth and tenth grades, is the student better prepared for taking the PSAT in the eleventh grade?

Why is the PSAT exam in the eleventh grade important . . . ? Answer — qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship awards is based on the scores on the PSAT taken as a Junior. Instead of only one practice exam, the Radnor School District students will have the opportunity to practice the PSAT twice before their Junior year. I would suggest that the number of Merit Scholars in Radnor School District will probably increase as a result.

The number of National Merit scholars is a widely quoted indicator of a given high school’s quality. To back up the high standard of T/E school district education, should the Curriculum Committee consider adding the option of PSAT testing for ninth graders? Should T/E fund PSAT testing for its students? Or, does T/E ignore what other neighboring districts are doing? Is there a risk that by increasing the number of practice PSAT exams, that teachers would teach to that exam rather than offering students a more traditional curriculum?

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  1. The thing that caught my eye about this was that Radnor plans to pay for the cost of the test and integrate it into the education program. I have always been surprised that families have been on their own to prepare for and take these very important (if the student is college-bound) tests. Now Radnor has recognized that this is part of their job and has taken on the fairly substantial cost – $14 per test per student per year, plus the overhead for administering it. TE should do the same.

    1. Ray, any idea how much the cost per student is for the exam (including the admin costs, etc.) How much does a parent have to pay for their child to take the exam? As it now stands, in TESD the total cost for the test (PSAT, SAT, SATII, etc.) is paid for the parents, correct? I assume that up to this point, the cost of taking the exams was paid for by Radnor parents. So the proposal is not just that 9th graders would have the opportunity to take the exam at Radnor, but that their District would pay the cost. Certainly an incentive!

      1. I can’t recall exactly, but our best recollection is that the cost in 2009 was $20, when the test itself – we think – was $11.

        Key words from Radnor: “teachers ….. check for individual student trajectories” and “use the information to help plan the educational program”.

    2. Ray — you of all people — who have complained repeatedly that TESD needs to cut costs — how can you possibly justify the district taking on the cost of a test that is open to enrollment. The College Board has means testing of its own I believe. The TIP program identifies kids in 7th grade based on SAT scores I believe (at least it used to). Debating the merits of when and who should take the test is one thing, but to suggest that the district should pick up the cost — just where do you think the money should come from since you were angry that TESD raised taxes? This is the issue in this community — we all want MORE — and we don’t want to pay more.

      1. Did I say that TE should add the cost without subtracting an equal or greater amount?

        My point is that such a program would increase the chances of students being admitted to the college of their choice.

        I think that this is a primary objective of the school district, and I would happily pay an activity fee, say, to offset the cost of integrating PSAT preparation into the curriculum.

        1. As the parent of a 8th grader, I agree and would support our district integrating the traditional curriculum with preparation for the PSAT.

  2. My kids have already graduated from Conestoga, but I strongly support the concept of T/E encouraging students to take the PSAT’s in the 9th and 10th grades, analyzing the results, identifying trends, and incorporating improvements into the student and curriculum plans. The PSAT’s and SAT’s are the most important non-subject specific national tests for college bound students.

    While it has been proven that tutoring does not significantly improve SAT scores, experience in taking these tests does help. Also, addressing deficiencies over time in math concepts, reading comprehension, grammar, etc… would be very beneficial.

    The thorniest issue is to get the students to take the PSAT seriously without over-stressing them. The experts would also have to be consulted on whether the results for 9th and 10th graders are indicative of later performance. Obviously, students learn the math concepts in different grades and (theoretically) they are reading more and more mature literature every year. (Thus one must be very careful in analyzing results.)

    Historically, the T/E parents paid for the tests and proctor costs in one fee. Given the current focus of cost cutting, I am not sure whether the taxpayers would support the additional costs. It would cost almost $25,000 for tests and proctor/admin for 9th and 10th graders (based on my memory of paying $8 in proctor costs above the test cost for the PSAT several years ago) plus the costs for analyzing the results and improving the curriculum. I believe that T/E already does consider preparing students for the SAT in the curriculum development but it was never overtly discussed with the students and my kids never did any SAT practice/review in their classes. (Other classes may have?) However, a focused look at student performance on the PSAT’s would be extremely useful.

    In general, T/E students score well on the SAT’s. However, the parents and students currently stress too much over the SAT’s and waste too much money on tutors and prep classes and retaking SAT’s with no real benefit. I’m not sure if highlighting PSAT results will increase the stress or relieve it with the schools discussing trends and providing more information to parents. If handled properly, I believe this could help most students. One last questions, do the schools/teachers even have the rights to review the test results?

  3. Dates
    In 2011, high schools may administer the PSAT/NMSQT on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 or Saturday, October 15, 2011.

    The fee for the 2011 PSAT/NMSQT is $14. (Note: Schools sometimes charge an additional fee to cover administrative costs.) The College Board makes fee waivers available to schools for students in eleventh grade from low-income families who can’t afford the test fee. See your counselor for more information about fee waivers.

    Independent Woman is right — parents stress way too much about these things. It’s always parents with kids at the top of the pile looking for more ways to prove it. Kids can take this test any number of times — buy the book or do it online. You can take the SAT anytime you want to register for it. The PSAT is jointly sponsored by College Board and the National Merit program. Only juniors are eligible to “compete”…. So does a public high school (read: taxpayer) now owe students a test to establish their competitive status — besides the ones (PSSA, ERB) that are already used.

  4. Do any of the posters here know much about the PSAT and what TESD does relating to it? I don’t think high school should be about preparing to take a test. AP tests already restrict what can be taught in the classroom. And if any parent wants their student to take more SAT prepration, there are countless programs available online or in one-on-one tutoring or a mix of the two (I remind you — Newsweek and KAPLAN are owned by the same company> Starting in 2009-10, FLITE underwrote an online SAT Prep course that was free to sophmores and juniors. Some TE teachers used to teach an SAT Prep course in the evenings. At some point, I believe it was offered for free because so many students have parents that pay hundreds/ thousands for SAT preparation. I’m not sure of that though. A student may sign up for and take the SAT every year they choose. If you think SAT PREP should be a high school curricular offer, what should it replace? Should taxpayers fund it? Ray says he would pay an activity fee for it. Isn’t that what SAT Prep courses are? Fee paid programs tailored to a specific objective?

    A sample calendar for students/parents:

    Info for freshmen/sophmore families

  5. If the school is on the hook to pay for and administer the PSATs then there is the $25K cost and the instructional day lost to testing. A better option is to keep the funding private, keep the test day on Saturday and publicize the benefits of taking the test early. Let the parents make an informed decision.

  6. While this is a worthy idea, there are cost factors well beyond the cost of the testing itself to think of.

    The teachers’ union will, undoubtedly, want extra funds for this “added work” that is above and beyond their contractual obligation. Remember what they did to the on-line learning program?

    Please remember when discussing these items: good ideas are just that — ideas. But, until the details are ironed our (or we think of unintended consequences) we shouldn’t jump on any bandwagon pro or con.

    Finally, shouldn’t all the other work (and testing) we already do with our kids give us an idea of where they need help, their trajectory, etc.

    Shouldn’t the teachers who interact with these kids everyday already be able to identify where they are weak and need help?

  7. All interesting discussion — thought it would be helpful to know just what CHS does.
    Here is the information on TESD as explained by an admin at the high school. As of now,
    We do allow 9th graders to take/register for the PSAT. The school does receive the score report and results. We don’t specifically use the results to inform the curriculum; rather we use our own assessments and make sure that our curriculum aligns with national and state curriculum standards. As you know, T/E students have performed exceptionally well on the SAT. We feel that students who access our rigorous academic program are well prepared for the PSAT/SAT. In addition to the FLITE online program, the CC Intermediate Unit offers a SAT prep course at CHS.

    (For those of us who took SATs 100s of years ago….practice testing is the only thing we did to prepare. The need to do test prep is driven by more people doing test prep. I agree with Citizen One above — parents need to make informed decisions and factor in not just their expectations, but also the willingness of their student to put in the time/effort for standardized testing results)

    Note that the National Merit SC has this on their website:
    Caution: Using numbers of Semifinalists to compare high schools, educational systems, or states will
    result in erroneous conclusions. The National Merit® Scholarship Program honors individual students
    who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. The program
    does not measure the quality or effectiveness of education within a school, system, or state. For more
    information about the competition, please visit NMSC’s website at

    PA qualifying scores for semi-finalist are pretty consistent. For the class of 2011, the score for PA was 216 — commended (national score) was 201. 2010, PA was 214 and commended was again 201. The class of 2009 — 213 (no info on commended), and the class of 2008 was 214.

    Note that during that time period, NJ scores were at least 220 for the cut off — while states like Arkansas, Utah, North Dakota and many others hovered at or under 205.

    At Conestoga, Class of 2011 included 34 Semi-finalists, 43 commended and 3 Hispanic scholars.
    Class of 2010 included 37 Semifinalists, 31 Commended, 1 Achievement and 2 Hispanic.

    Generalized statistics: 1.5 million students take the test. 50,000 are recognized; 16,000 as semifinalists and 15,000 ultimately as finalists.

    Check back to Pattye”s post on Mar 1 of 2011.

  8. Unions will be a big stumbling block. What’s in it for them?

    Forget the Psat stuff. There will be an extraction of blood from these yokes… at least from the leaders. Don’t want to impugn teachers, generally. We paid for all our kids testing prep. Some were better than others as we learned.

    Let it go.

  9. How much should taxpayers be forced to pay? There is nothing preventing parents from getting their kids additional test prep in 9th grade.

    The district offers the PSATs in 10th and 11th grade. The 10th grade test is the practice test. That is adequate. Of course, parents would love for the district to pay for and offer the test in 9th grade too. SATs are important for success, and the PSATs are important too due to National Merit Recognition. However, nobody realistically thinks 9th grade PSATs are an educational necessity. Top private boarding schools in New England that cost $40k a year don’t even offer 9th grade PSATs.

    Parents must take responsibility for educational frills. If you wanted to discuss a special test prep just for disadvantaged students, I’d feel differently. I would support a private charity helping those students with test prep. But I do not think the taxpayers should have to shell out for 9th grade PSATs when parents have plenty of private solutions.

    We all want CHS to be a top high school, but money is not unlimited. If you want all of the bells & whistles and the high taxes to pay for them, move to Lower Merion. Heck…they even offer swim lessons. They spend almost double on students. But then again…T/E Schools are ranked as highly, and taxes are lower here. If you believe in the socialist model of government providing all of the services you can imagine (even services available privately like swim lessons), move to Lower Merion where the voters agree with you and are willing to support ever higher tax increases. But T/E is a different model, and it’s worked to provide us with a high-quality education at an affordable price.

    1. So well said AP. So many of the posts here simply take shots — complaining about our “high taxes” and then complaining that we dont’ have what others offer.

      I’ve concluded that is the common ill in America. It is so much more interesting to criticize and analyze then it is to get in the trenches and work. Even in Philadelphia, private corporate money is coming forward to replace the beleaguered school superintendent….for who, for what? WHo exactly do we think will take these jobs when all that awaits them is scrutiny without relief. We all pay for the services we get — and we have every right to scrutinize them. But endlessly? Public service is no longer service — it’s survival. People battle for the jobs — but it’s really the fight that brings interest, not the process of governing.
      Anyway – AP — thanks. The cost of living in Lake Woebegone could be any price — whatever the public will absorb.

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