For a community in transition, among its most important priorities is maintaining a stable school system — a challenge that ranks among the most difficult to execute. “Our demographics are changing,” notes Katherine Williams, Instruction Technology Coordinator for the Rockdale County (GA) Public Schools, “and we’re constantly being challenged with maintaining our high standards and even increasing our students’ performance.”
No small task for this growing eastern suburb of nearby Atlanta. For a community that traditionally characterizes itself as “both urban and rural, modern and traditional, bustling and slow paced,” the trend is clearly upward in terms of population, particularly with a recent influx of many nationalities, races and religions, according to a town spokesman.
“Last year, as a tool to improve SAT scores and college acceptance rates, we launched a pilot program for our high school students so they could prepare for the college prep tests online,” says Williams, adding that the voluntary online course has been installed systemwide. “Our initial experience has been tremendous.”
The online SAT course designed by Peterson’s, part of The Thomson Corporation, provides the 1,750 11th and 12th grade high school students at the system’s three high schools with 24/7 access to the prep course throughout the 2003-2004 school year. Each student’s unique curriculum, or Customized Learning Path?, is created based on the results of diagnostic tests that measure every math and verbal skill required for SAT success.
A key to the course’s success and potential is its flexibility and personalization capabilities. When a student makes an error, the program explains why; when a student has questions on test strategy, the program gives suggestions; when a student is weak in one area, the program will help focus attention on specific areas in order to improve performance.
“With its cutting-edge technology, our course sets the standard for a new kind of test preparation, one that avoids the traditional one-size-fits-all approach and creates a personalized instructional plan for each student,” says Ben Paris, Peterson’s Director of Online Test Preparation. “By bringing SAT prep into the classroom, Rockdale County schools have given students and parents a tremendous advantage in planning for college.”
Though it’s too early to assess the program’s impact on its students, the Rockdale County schools have a lot at stake: Rockdale students continue to close the gap with national scores, and the RCPS system goal continues to exceed the national average when comparing all students who take the SAT. Some additional good news is that the percentage of students who describe themselves as a minority increased significantly in Rockdale County. This past school year, 71% of seniors took the SAT and 30% of the test takers reported themselves as minority. Last year, national scores increased slightly as did those of Georgia students.
Rockdale students in this group acquired a Verbal Score of 592 and a Math score of 610. Georgia’s students in this group had scores of 571 and 578, and the Nation’s students in this group had scores of 585 and 607 respectively.
“In other districts we have found that students who took our course achieved final scores an average of 118 points higher than those who didn’t take the course,” says a Peterson’s spokeswoman.
“The course is awesome,” adds Williams. “A lot of students don’t think they need to study for SATs, but as more kids take this course and improve their scores, the word-of-mouth is spreading.”
For more information on Peterson’s online SAT course, contact 1-877-TEST-PREP.