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Passing the test – free coaching classes for minority student-athletes to enter colleges

Subpar performances on standardized
tests have dashed more than a few
hopes and dreams of minority athletes
who wanted to go to college. But now,
some much needed help is available
and student-athletes stand to benefit

The National Alliance of
African-American Athletes (NAAAA)
and the Princeton Review Foundation
have forced a partnership to
help high school
athletes get the right
kind of preparation to
pass the college board
exams known as the
Scholastic Aptitude
Tests (SAT). In early
November, the two
organizations staged a
series of one-day
seminars in
twenty-six cities
around the country
for that purpose.

The free seminars,
known as SAT
Pre-Game, were
designed to help athletes
sharpen their
test-taking skills. An
estimated 3, 000
youngsters attended,
according to seminar
organizers who
noted that the sessions were the
first to be offered on such a widescale

SAT coaching courses, for the
most part, are available only to those
who can afford them. The courses,
which are taught in sixty cities across
the country, have a hefty price tag — ranging
from $600 to $700 per child.
But with SAT Pre-Game in place,
athletes from lower income families
now have the opportunity to get
properly prepared for the SAT.

At SAT Pre-Game seminars,
students start the day by taking a
sample SAT, which lasts anywhere
from two-and-a-half to three hours.
Following the test, college basketball
coaches gave motivational talks about
the importance of being ready to
handle college academics. After those
talks and a pizza lunch, the Princeton
Review provided a computer analysis
of each student’s test, outlining
individual strengths and weaknesses.
The Review also gave specific tips on
how students can upgrade their
test-taking skills.

Additionally, the athletes got the
latest information on Proposition 48
(NCAA’s academic standards for
student-athletes), along with a guide to
Proposition 48 requirements and
“Cracking The SAT,” a book
published by the Princeton Review.

“The response we had was so
positive,” says Jay Rosner, the
Princeton Review Foundation’s
national coordinator for the seminars.
“We were pleased with the turnout of
the athletes and the coaches. The kids
left those seminars with a lot of
excellent information and materials.

“We were able to put together a
program that gives the students
information they can use. SAT
Pre-Game empowers the kids to handle
the new NCAA rules in ways that no
other program has.”

Carlos Samples, a junior baseball
player at Lamar High School in
Houston, feels more confident about
taking the test after attending the
day-long seminar.

“The thing you don’t want to do is
to take the test, get shell-shocked and
not know what to do,” Samples says.
“I feel like I’ll do better because I know
what to expect. There won’t be
anything to surprise me.”

For Heather Plasek, a senior
soccer player at Houston’s
Scarborough High School, taking part
in the seminar proved to be an
“It was good to find out what I
needed to work on,” she says. “We got
the kind of information to tell us
exactly what to do to improve our
score. It’s like getting a strategy to
pass the test which is just like coming
up with a strategy to win a game.”

The Validity of Standardized Tests
There has been an ongoing debate
about the validity of standardized
tests in determining a student’s
suitability for college. Those who
oppose testing argue that the SAT
is racially and culturally biased.
Proponents counter that standards
were needed to ensure that those
who are admitted to college have
the requisite skills to handle the
books and earn a degree.

Glue Wilkins, the alliance’s CEO,
feels that focusing on what’s right and
wrong about the test isn’t the best way
to serve the youngsters who want to
continue their education past high

“[Cultural bias] is not the real
issue,” says Wilkins. “The real issue is
that if you want to go to college, you
have to pass this test. And SAT
Pre-Game shows them how it’s done.

That’s a big reason why kids from the
suburbs do better than kids from the
inner city [on the SAT]. The suburban
kids have the pros [like Princeton
Review] showing them how it’s done.”
He also points out that what hurts
so many minority athletes when it
comes to the SAT is a lack of access to
the right information about the entire
process of getting ready for college.

Wilkins was present at the
seminar held in Baltimore, which drew
180 youngsters. “The kids were elated
about it,” he says. “And the adults
were glad to get access to that
information, because most of them
don’t really know what it’s all about.”
The Pre-Game program, explains
Fred Bentsen, coordinator for the
seminar held in Houston, will continue
to attract more athletes because it’s
needed and more students are
beginning to understand that.

“This has the potential to grow
nationwide each year,” says Bentsen.
“And it will never go away, because
every year, you always hear those
stories about promising athletes who
didn’t make it to college because they
didn’t score high enough on the SAT.

“If we’re able to reach kids during their sophomore and
junior years, they’re going to be much better off. What I tell
them is if they start working on
this now, they won’t have to worry
about being one of those sad stories
when their high school days are over.”

It’s clear that learning and mastering
new test-taking techniques sets the
tone for posting higher test scores. But
at the same time, says Bentsen, there is
still work to be done in helping a large
number of athletes overcome their fear
of taking standardized tests.

Learning Not to Accept Defeat
In his ten years with the Princeton
Review, Bentsen has observed his
share of star athletes who shine on the
field or in the arena but fall flat on their
faces and accept defeat when they sit
down to take the SAT.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with race or gender,”
Bentsen says. “They won’t give up if they’re out on the
field. But I’ve seen a lot of them give up on the SAT. What
happens in a lot of cases is that they rely on getting lucky.
That doesn’t make a lot of sense. They
don’t rely on luck to win games, so why rely on luck to pass
the SAT?

“The point I try to make is that giving up on the SAT is
a contradiction to what they’re all about as student athletes.
They put in the time to get better at their sport, so the same
thing has to happen for them to get better with this test.
We’re just trying to appeal to who they are as

Given the success of Pre-Game’s first run, seminar
officials are confident that the program will expand. Plans
call for the seminars to be held twice a year beginning in the
spring of 1997. And the number of cities hosting seminars
could increase to fifty as early as next spring, Rosner says.

The National Alliance of African-American Athletes is
an organization that seeks to empower African American
males through education, athletics and public programs.
NAAAA, established in 1989, hosts several events annually
including a national conference and the yearly presentation
of the Watkins Award given to the top African American
high school scholar-athlete in the country.

The Princeton Review Foundation is working to enhance
its presence in the African American consumer market. As
the national coordinator, Rosner works with civic
organizations across the U.S. to help provide access to
testing programs for youngsters whose families can’t afford
to pay the standard fee for SAT coaching.

For more information on SAT Pre-Game, call the
Princeton Review Foundation at (805) 682-3670.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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