SAT Boot Camp Teaches Students the Rules of the Test-Taking Game
‘If you’re going to level the playing field, you are going to have to teach people the rules. And that is what we’re doing — teaching these students the rules of the SAT game,” says Starlett Craig who conceived the idea of Clemson University’s SAT Workshop for Minority Students. The three-year-old program is helping raise minority students’ SAT scores, as well as encouraging more minorities to take the test and aspire to college.
“The program raises their confidence. It gives them firsthand knowledge of what the test will be like,” says Craig, director of Clemson’s academic outreach
The SAT Workshop, called an academic boot camp by students, is a collaborative effort with the Princeton Review.
For 19 of the past 20 years, the state of South Carolina has had the lowest SAT scores in the nation. In addition, minority students still face many challenges. A lower proportion of African American students take the SAT — 6,035 (26 percent) of the state’s 22,973 test takers were African American. In 1998, 9,141 test takers scored 1000 on the SAT but only 794, or 8.69 percent of them, were African American students.
Concerned about this gap between minority and White students, Clemson officials set about establishing an SAT prep program. They took note of a successful Saturday “Achievement Academy” operated by the state at some high schools from January through May. And they consulted with administrators and teachers at nearby Daniel High School, whose students, including African Americans, traditionally did well on the SAT.
Working with officials from the Princeton Review, Clemson kicked off its pilot program in 1999. The two-week summer workshop is open at no cost to South Carolina minority 10th graders who will be juniors the following fall. Students must have a verifiable PSAT or SAT score of around 800 and a grade-point average of 3.0 in math, science and English.
“We eventually want to make it (the workshop) race blind,” says Thorton Kirby, executive secretary of Clemson’s board of trustees. “We want to go to parts of the state where the scores are low and therefore avoid any legal challenges. We see this as part of an overall strategy to diversify our student body.”
Clemson sent out brochures about the program to every school in the state.
“High school counselors did a great job of getting the information out,” says Craig, who received more than 300 applications. The pilot SAT boot camp accepted 130 students —103 completed the course. The students had an average PSAT or SAT score of 938.9. When they took the SAT after the course, their scores averaged 1031.5, an average increase of 93.4 points.
Of the group, 10 students raised their score to 1200. Previously only 30 students in the group had scored 1000 on the PSAT, but after the program, 65 students did so (See chart, bottom right). All the participants in the Clemson program plan to attend college. Clemson is in the process of getting back SAT scores of those who took part in the workshop last summer.
Craig noted that 70 percent of the workshop participants are female. “We’d like to change that to 50/50,” she says. Students attend the workshop from all over South Carolina, with larger numbers from the metropolitan areas of Columbia, Charleston, Orangeburg and Rock Hill.
While the prospect of staying on a college campus for two weeks may sound like fun for high school juniors, those selected know it will not be party time. The students prepare for the SAT approximately six hours a day. They pore over the Princeton Review math and verbal manuals, as well as authentic SATs from the College Board. They read a “hit parade” of 240 vocabulary words, which crop up regularly on the SAT and they practice on full-length practice SATs, which are computer scored and analyzed.
“The students also have a real, simulated college experience. They stay in residence halls, eat in the college cafeteria, they interact with college students,” says Craig. They have access to college counselors and tutors. On weekends they can swim, play basketball, attend movies and parties and relax a bit. But all students must sign a contract to follow camp rules.
The 108 students are a manageable number for the
Clemson workshop. The cost ordinarily would be $600 but Clemson gets a 50 percent reduction from the Princeton Review Foundation. The college of undergraduate studies under Dean Jerry Reel defrays the entire cost of the program, with help from Kirby’s office with the board.
“If we were to enlarge the program, we’d have to look for partners among other colleges,” says Craig. “We recognize that if we post a fee, many of the students couldn’t come. Right now we look at this as a privilege these students have earned.”
But the expense has already spurred Clemson to seek private donors to help defray costs.
Craig admits there’s another angle to the Clemson SAT workshop. Officials hope that talented minority students will enjoy their experience at the camp and choose Clemson as their college. But even if they don’t, the experience will benefit them wherever they go, says Craig. “At our workshop students recognize that college does not have to be intimidating. It can be a friendly, caring atmosphere. It’s the best kind of experience if you want to know more about college,” she says.
“We know that we can’t skin the cat with only pilot programs like this — we know we have to do more,” Kirby says.
Lower Richland High School juniors Milan Bush and Cherelle Guyton both participated in the SAT Workshop for Minority Students last summer. Though good students, in both cases attendance was their
parents’ idea, not theirs. They weren’t too wild about two more weeks of school in the summer.
“Now I realize what a great opportunity it was,” says Bush, who gained more confidence about taking the SAT.
Guyton says students learn great test-taking strategies, such as how to zero in on key paragraphs during the SAT to save valuable time.
Titus Duren, principal of Lower Richland High School in Columbia, has sent students to the Clemson workshop for two years now.
“We have a problem in South Carolina and we’ve got to do everything we can,” he says. “This is helpful, practical training.”
Clemson’s workshop just adds to the arsenal in South Carolina’s attempt to upgrade education, says Mary Ann Byrd of the Education Assessment office of the South Carolina Department of Education. “It takes a variety of approaches, and it takes creativity.”
In 1998 the state tapped a committee to develop numerous initiatives to improve education and test scores in the public schools. The state now pays for 10th graders to take the PSAT. Some of the other programs include a statewide SAT “bowl.” High schools compete on a two-hour test created by the College Board. Students may advance to regional and state level by individual score or as a school “team,” in categories depending on their school’s size. In January, 150 high schools competed on the regional level, with 20 now headed into the state finals at the University of South Carolina.These competitions, along with programs such as Clemson’s workshop, help students hone their skills, says Byrd. “The more they take these tests, the better they do. It’s another opportunity to be in a ‘live’ situation,” she says.
Last year South Carolina and Hawaii experienced 12-point jumps in their average SAT scores, more than other states. Within the past two years, South Carolina’s score has jumped 15 points. The national composite
average SAT score for the year 2000 was 1019; South Carolina’s was 966.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com