Idaho taxpayers paid $963,500 for every junior in the state to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) test in April. Not only did the state pay for students to take the exam, but it is required as part of every student’s education. Juniors in the class of 2013, in other words, had no choice.
Students were provided the test during the school day during regular school hours. They could choose an alternate test but would have had to pay for it themselves and take it on the offered weekends. The SAT test was selected based on a competitive bid process. The College Board, which administers the test, has a one-year contract to do so.
The Idaho State Board of Education proposed new high school graduation requirements for the class of 2013 to ensure more students graduate from high school prepared to go on to postsecondary education or the workforce. Among these requirements, students must take an additional year of math and science and complete a college entrance exam before the end of their junior year.
The Idaho Department of Education says its goal is to have every student ready for college or some sort of career path. “Our goal is for every Idaho child to be college- and career-ready,” according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. He said the testing is important for students “to know whether they are prepared for the rigors of postsecondary education. This is an important piece of our Students Come First reform efforts to create a 21st century classroom and make sure Idaho students are prepared to succeed in the world that awaits them.”
The Legislature voted in favor of this payment and the accompanying requirement back in 2007, when money wasn’t as big of an issue as it currently is in Idaho’s economic climate. The money was actually appropriated by the 2011 Legislature.
But, should the state be requiring and subsequently paying for high schoolers to take the test, even if they have no desire to go to college or to any schooling beyond high school?
Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, who is running for the Senate, has emerged in the last few years in the Legislature as a creative mind in the area of education, always offering new and different ways to educate Idahoans. He was around in 2007 when the plan was approved and says he supports the idea. “The idea is so they (high school students) can get an idea as to what the potential is. Some don’t think they can do that. It’s not a real big issue to me. The intent I think is good.”
Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for Luna’s office, says that the testing is not just for students looking to four-year universities, but any postsecondary education, like technical schools.
“We know that about 60 percent of the jobs now, and even more in the future, will require some form of postsecondary education,” she said. “We know that if students are going to be successful in life after high school, in the 21st century, they’re going to need some education after high school. So, it’s our (the state’s) responsibility to make sure that students graduate from high school prepared for that.”
The state education department says it selected the SAT, among the factors, because it offered practice tests in advance of the actual exam and students who find they need help in some area can retake the test in their senior year. The SAT exam measures reading, math, writing skills and general knowledge. Two other states, Maine and Delaware, also have contracts with the College Board for SAT testing.