Schools have seen improvements across the board since the SAT test became mandatory.
Thousands of D.C. students from public school will take the SAT today. It’s part of an increased focus on getting more students from the District to go to college.
DaTonice Woodfork is a senior at H.D. Woodson High School in northeast D.C. She’s learned 300 new vocabulary words since the school year began, completed practice tests and is ready to take the SAT again in hopes of improving her score. It’s free.
"I don't have the money to pay for a test, so I know I would have only taken it once. And whatever score I had would have been the score I had to keep. It would have been a lot more stressful," Woodfork says.
As part of a District-wide effort to get more students to go to college, D.C. high school students also receive free SAT books, test preparation materials and online support. The test is also held in their schools.
"We're around our peers, we don't have to travel across town, we're in our comfort zone. Usually the test is on weekends and I got a lot of stuff to do on weekends!" Woodfork says.
Three years ago counselor Ernesh Stewart says just 14 students took the SAT, but things have changed dramatically. She says last year 100 percent of seniors took the test because it’s now a graduation requirement.
"It’s a dramatic shift in the mindset in creating a college-going culture, where you have access, you have resources, and its for a greater purpose," Stewart says.
School counselors are also taking students to visit more colleges, helping them fill out scholarship forms and mapping what classes they need to take based on what they want to do.
"They might want to be a doctor but they don't like biology. It’s abstract to them so I have to map it all backwards and put it in concrete terms," Stewart says.
Stewart says more than 90 percent of students who went to college last year were the first in their family to do so.
Principal Darrin Slade says the effort has paid off in other ways at his school. He says because students see a life after high school. Attendance is better, reading and math scores have improved, and the four year graduation rate increased by more than 10 percentage points.
"That is a big thrust of being an educator in an urban school, you have to instill some dreams in students who don't have those dreams initially," Slade says.
The program cost the District approximately $250,000 last year.
Support for WAMU's education reporting comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.