In Patterson, college entrance exams don’t have to be scary

Patterson High School refurbished all its classrooms in 2013. Now, students can study for the SATs during class and take them during the school day.
Patterson High School refurbished all its classrooms in 2013. Now, students can study for the SATs during class and take them during the school day. The Modesto Bee

In Patterson, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to increase access to college for all students. We provide our students the opportunity to take the SAT during the school day.

As part of our commitment to college and career readiness for every Patterson Joint Unified School District graduate, our high schools offer free, personalized SAT test preparation tools during the school day to ensure all students – at every proficiency and ability level – are ready to take this important test. These are official SAT practice tools provided through a partnership between Khan Academy, a California-based leader in online education, and the College Board, the makers of the SAT.

In fact, we’re proud that Patterson Joint Unified was one of five districts to receive the 2017-18 California Rural Official SAT Practice Challenge awards for connecting students to these tools.

In our mostly rural community, many students and their families are navigating the college application process for the first time. The ability to provide students with the resources they need to succeed, including college admissions tests, improves access to college for students of every zip code, ability and language proficiency level.

We see college admissions exams such as the SAT as a critical tool – not a barrier – for our students, parents and teachers, as well as college admissions officers. Teachers and counselors in Patterson Joint Unified are provided with SAT data, which can be used to inform them how best to support students in reaching their academic goals. When our students take the SAT, they can be connected to college application fee waivers, Khan Academy’s official free, personalized test practice and extensive scholarship opportunities.

The way to ensure authentic equity in college admissions is to give all students the support and tools they need to pursue their college and career ambitions.

When college admissions tests are offered during the school day, instead of Saturday mornings when some students would be working, more students are able to achieve their fullest potential.

When school districts are working to level the field, that includes making sure all students have the support and accommodations they need. English learners taking the SAT are always provided appropriate accommodations, including access to testing instructions in their primary language, bilingual glossaries and, more recently, extended testing time.

All students with exceptional needs are given appropriate accommodations on the SAT as identified by their personal education team.

Leaders in the college admissions community recognize college admissions tests are an important part of a holistic admission process – one that considers test scores as one factor among many that can show a students’ true potential for success. But college admission is just one component of these exams’ utility.

College admissions exams provide highly useful data for teachers and administrators, not just admissions officers. College admissions tests are used nationwide as a complement to grades, in order to reliably predict college and career success and student achievement across socio-economic status, race and ethnicity without bias or potential inflation.

Patterson is diverse, inclusive and proud. Increasing access to important college admissions tests like the SAT – at no cost to the students – means Patterson Joint Unified students from every walk of life can seek their college and career dreams. This is an approach many districts across California are taking as we endeavor to provide students the tools they need to succeed.

Philip M. Alfano, Ed. D, is superintendent of Patterson Joint Unified School District.