Test Takers

Record number of New York City students take SAT after city offers test for free

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students at the High School of Fashion Industries in 2015, when education department officials first announced the plan to pay for all juniors to take the SAT.

A record number of New York City students took the SAT last spring thanks to a new initiative that allows all high-school juniors to take the exam for free during the school day.

Nearly 78 percent of last year’s 11th-graders had taken the test at least once during high school — a 25 percentage point increase over the previous year’s cohort, according to education department data released Thursday.

The $2.2 million-per-year initiative is designed to get more low-income students to take the test, which most selective colleges require applicants to take. (The ACT is another option.) Known as “SAT School Day,” it frees up students from having to sign up for the test, pay the $46 fee or request a waiver, and travel to a testing site on a Saturday, when the test is normally given.

“With more NYC students taking the SAT than ever before, our efforts to eliminate any barriers on any child’s path to college and careers are working,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

While taking the SAT is often the first step in applying to college, it does not guarantee students will end up there. In 2016, just under 60 percent of New York City students enrolled in college or other post-secondary programs after high school.

The city’s SAT program significantly boosted the number of juniors who have taken the test at least once: Last year, 61,800 had, up from about 40,800 in 2016. In addition, the gap in participation rates between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic peers grew smaller.

However, large racial gaps persist when it comes to students’ SAT scores. For instance, among last year’s 11th-graders, white students on average scored 100 points higher than black students and 94 points higher than Hispanics on the math portion of the test, which is scored on a 200 to 800-point scale. Asian students, on average, scored 40 points higher than whites in math.

On average, New York City students last year scored below a level in math that indicates they’re prepared for college-level work. But they surpassed that “college-ready” benchmark in reading and writing.

Juniors averaged 494 in math, while seniors averaged 499. A score of 530 in math is considered college-ready, meaning it predicts with 75 percent likelihood that a student will earn at least a C in their first-semester college course in that subject, according to the College Board, the nonprofit that controls the SAT.

In reading and writing, the average was 490 among juniors and 498 for seniors. The college-ready cutoff is 480. Incoming students at the City University of New York who don’t reach that benchmark must take remedial classes.

The city’s in-school SAT initiative began as a pilot program in 2015 and expanded to all high schools last spring. It is part of de Blasio’s “College Access for All” initiative, which also aims in the coming years for every middle-school student to go on a college visit and every high-school student to graduate with a personalized college-and-career plan.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”