This morning my husband, who teaches English at a beautifully diverse high school in Manhattan, will be administering the SAT exam to a packed room of high school juniors. On the surface, there is nothing particularly notable about this. Every student takes the SAT in high school, right? What’s so special about this?
Well, first of all, not every high-schooler has the opportunity to take the SAT. The exam, which almost all colleges require for admission, is voluntary for high school students. For some, the fee alone ($45 currently) is a major barrier. The fact that the exam is usually offered on a Saturday can be a hindrance as well. Some students work then; others have parents who work and who can’t transport them to the testing site.
Still other students might not have parents who encourage their children to sign up. There are so many reasons why this may be the case. For example, a child might not sign up for the exam simply because the child’s parents have recently immigrated to America and are not familiar with the significance of the exam.
It is for all of these reasons that the New York City Department of Education has decided to take matters into its own hands and administer the SAT on a school day, when all or most of its students will be present. Additionally, the Department of Education will pay for all of its juniors to take the exam (yup, all 70,000 of them).
Now, as the wife of a New York City Department of Education employee, and as a parent of two kids who attend New York City schools, I have my fair share of complaints to level against the Department of Education and against our nation’s school system in general. But it is compassionate acts like this (which I actually see happening more and more lately), that restore my hope in our educators and in our public schools as a whole.
The idea for a free SAT access day was actually first announced in 2015 by New York City’s Department of Education Chancellor, Carmen Fariña, as part of the College Access for All initiative, a $3.5 million campaign to level the playing field and make college a reality for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status.
In addition to free SAT access, the New York City Department of Education reports that students will get free SAT practice accounts on Khan Academy, an SAT preparation website. In addition, high school students will be visiting college campuses on a regular basis, will receive help completing college applications, and will be offered counseling about how to afford a college education. Students who can’t afford college application fees will have the opportunity for a fee waiver.
How awesome is this?
Chancellor Fariña knows firsthand how difficult it can be for minority students and students of lower socioeconomic status to navigate the college admissions process. “I only became the first person in my family to go to college because a teacher let me know it was an option and supported me through the application and enrollment process so I could follow my dreams of becoming a teacher,” Chancellor Fariña explains in the Department of Education bulletin.
“The opportunity to go to college should never be decided by students’ backgrounds or zip codes. The new SAT School Day and the expansion of College Application Week demonstrate our commitment to providing every student with the support and resources they need to pursue college,” Fariña says.
A-freaking-men. And it’s not just the fact of making the exam more practical and affordable for students. Initiatives like this send students and families the message that no matter where they come from, they all deserve a fair shot at a college education.
Chalkbeat.com reports that on Monday, New York City Major Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña spoke to a group of students at Queens Vocational and Technical High School in Long Island City about the initiative. “For a long time, a lot of kids were told they don’t have a chance to go to college, and that was so often wrong,” de Blasio said, as he spoke to the kids. “We’re sending the opposite message now: Anyone who wants to go to college has a chance to make it.”
This is the first year that the New York City department of education has tried out a free access SAT day, but other school districts have done so in the past with promising results. “Studies demonstrate that offering the SAT during school days helps to broaden opportunities for all students, particularly black and Latino students,” the Department of Education reports, adding that SAT School Days have resulted in higher attendance at four-year colleges, particularly of first-generation students applying to college.
It truly takes a village to raise a child, and programs like this show that there are an abundance of educators out there who really do care and who are doing everything in their power to make sure that each and every child gets equal access to a full and equitable education. Of course, our system is full of pitfalls, and we have every right to complain about them (and fight to make them better!). But everyone should know that the teachers and educators you know truly have your child’s back, and all kids’ best interest at heart.
So next time you see a teacher, do me a favor and give them a great, big hug.