West Potomac High School average SAT scores jumped a record of 56 points in 2006 from the previous year. According to the College Board, across the nation "the average score on the test's critical reading section was down five points and the average math section score was down two points, for a joint score of 1021, the lowest since 2002." In Virginia, average scores dropped a total of five points; four points in critical reading and one point in math. Defying national and state patterns, West Potomac High school's scores shot up 56 points: 24 points in critical reading and 32 points in math. Furthermore, 41 more students took the SAT in 2006 than in the previous year.
WPHS school officials credit the increase to the success of a newly started SAT prep program that began in January of 2006.
When Tim Boyd, the director of student services, first came to WPHS a year and a half ago, he saw an immediate need to help students with their standardized test-taking. "I wanted to start a test prep program that would give all West Potomac students a chance to improve their test taking skills," he said.
A test prep program had already been ongoing for a number of years at West Springfield High School, where students are encouraged to spend 10 minutes daily practicing computer skill drills. Tim Boyd collaborated with a career specialist and a counselor, Susan Rexford and Michelle O'Brien, respectively, from West Springfield to start a similar program. A grant was soon submitted and approved to fund the program by Fairfax County Public Schools.
THE SAT TEST PREP PROGRAM runs in the Spring from January through May. Students are required to complete daily skill drills for five to ten minutes on a Web site, obtain instructor signatures weekly and to attend four scheduled Saturday test prep sessions. Students face withdrawal from the program if they fail to complete any of the requirements at any given time. Parents and guardians' roles are to encourage and monitor skill drill participation and initial the student's daily log. Facilitators oversee the program, communicate information to students and parents, and give instruction and feedback.
Even if some students do not complete the program, they are encouraged to continue practicing skill drills on the Web site. "Spending a few minutes on these drills each day will boost their scores," said Boyd.
Saturday sessions are devoted to training students on SAT test-taking strategies and to a specific area of testing of the SAT: the math, critical reading and writing sections. Other activities may also include learning how to interpret scores from the fall PSAT test, taking practice tests in "a timed mock testing atmosphere," according to Boyd.
BESIDES SKILL DRILLS and Saturday sessions, the school makes sure students have plenty of access to test prep info through a variety of means. "It is important for us to provide the access to test prep information to students using a variety of modalities. Some are visual learners, others are auditory learners. We provide information in written form through computers, afternoon announcements. We also make the SAT question of the week available in our internal school television station Channel 6," said WPHS career counselor Barbara Conner. "My hope is that the students will see a difference in not only their test scores but in their daily class-work as well," she said.
At the end of the program in 2006, 76 students finished the program. "We were especially impressed with the commitment and dedication of the 76 students who completed the program and awarded each student with a Certificate of Excellence," said Boyd.
"Part of the vision was that I want to see all students challenged at the highest possible level and I want to see them follow through in their commitments. No matter where you're from, I want the commitment from everyone because that is what will get you ready for taking these tests and also the future," said Boyd.
Teamwork played an integral part in launching this successful program. West Springfield's Rexford and O'Brien, and West Potomac's Barbara Conner and Christine Spaulding, career specialist and counselor, respectively, Boyd and Principal Rima Vesilind each play a vital role in continuing the program.
"This SAT prep program that the guidance staff has put together is just outstanding. This program has helped focus all of the professionals in the school on helping our students have higher achievement on standardized tests," said Vesilind.