Leveling the Playing Field: Bringing High-quality SAT Exam Prep to Students

Apr. 22, 2019
 
Two DPS students participating in the free Kaplan SAT Test Prep Program at Abraham Lincoln High School.
Two DPS students participating in the free Kaplan SAT Test Prep Program at Abraham Lincoln High School.

From fees for applications and tutoring to the rising cost of college tuition, high school students can face many barriers when it comes to getting accepted into — and staying enrolled in — the college of their choice. Colorado provides the SAT college-entrance exam free of charge to all high school juniors, which helps increase access to this important test. But how are DPS students preparing for test-taking success?

Elite SAT tutoring programs are typically accessed by families who can afford the high price they command. Couple that with the fact that in the U.S. education system, the SAT is used by most colleges as a major deciding factor in whether a student gets accepted into a school or not.

DPS student Filiz Baltaci working with a Kaplan SAT Test Prep instructor to solve a math problem in preparation for the SAT college-entrance exam.

DPS student Filiz Baltaci working with a Kaplan SAT Test Prep instructor to solve a math problem in preparation for the SAT college-entrance exam.

Last fall, students from throughout the district asked then superintendent candidate Susana Cordova to provide more SAT test preparation program options. “I believe every student deserves access to high-quality SAT test-taking strategies and personalized preparation. Each one of our students should know where they stand when they are getting ready to take the PSAT and SAT, so that they can have a game plan that helps them plan their study time and an adult who can help them navigate the process of getting prepared to apply to college,” said Cordova, who is a DPS graduate and first-generation college student.

To make good on that commitment, this spring DPS piloted a free Kaplan Test Prep program with hopes of future expansion. With top-notch Kaplan instructors visiting for eight weekly sessions, students gained effective instruction and a sense of what the experience would be like on test day, including practice tests to build their endurance and confidence. The program even provided transportation for students, as getting to one of the four school sites could have posed an issue for many students.

“Before the Kaplan program, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the SAT, but I gained a lot of knowledge on how to take the test and where I needed to focus. I learned a ton of tips to help me do better on the reading and writing sections,” said Filiz Baltaci, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School who plans to go into forensic psychology.         

“Since the program was outside of the ordinary school day, everyone who participated made a commitment that was above and beyond what would’ve been expected. Students gave up their Saturdays for two months!” said Gary Cooper, the director of college readiness systems and lead coordinator for the Kaplan pilot.             

Getting students motivated to devote eight Saturdays to study might seem difficult — but with this opportunity to get ahead in the college preparation process, it was an easy choice for Oscar Rodriguez, a junior at Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, who was one of 200 students in the pilot.

Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy student Oscar Rodriguez preparing for the SAT at Abraham Lincoln High School, a test prep location for the free Kaplan SAT Prep pilot program.

Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy student Oscar Rodriguez preparing for the SAT at John F. Kennedy High School, a test prep location for the free Kaplan SAT Prep pilot program.

“To me, showing up each Saturday really wasn’t much of a sacrifice. This program would have cost me hundreds of dollars, and for this to come up for free, I just jumped on it. This is my time to study. It’s my time to do better on the SAT and hopefully get into really good colleges,” he said. “Coming into this program, I knew I need to improve in math, but I’ve been able to improve in all subject areas.

While the program is a pilot, it is already showing promising results:

“This program helped calm a lot of nerves, and it’s a good review. We do test prep in our regular school day, but this is a lot more in-depth and you don’t have to do as much on your own time. It’s really helpful,” said Mary Scott, junior at Thomas Jefferson High School.

“When I took the PSAT, I wasn’t prepared. The Kaplan approach is a a different method — a different way of thinking — and it has given me confidence that I can take this test better,” added Rodriguez.

Parents can help by encouraging their students to take advantage of the Official SAT Prep Program through Khan Academy and other free SAT prep resources. For more information on ways to prepare for college, talk with your school counselor and teachers, and visit collegeandcareer.dpsk12.org.

A DPS student preparing for the SAT.

Increasing high school students’ access to free P/SAT preparation resources is part of Superintendent Susana Cordova’s plan for leading DPS toward a streamlined focus on Equity, Instructional Excellence and Collaborative Teamwork. Learn more at superintendent.dpsk12.org.