PORTLAND – Portland High School’s efforts to increase the number of juniors who took the SAT in May have paid off.

The high school boosted its participation rate from a usual 83 percent to nearly 99 percent by using various methods to promote the importance of the test and better prepare students to take it, said Principal Mike Johnson.

Maine high schools use the college admissions test to assess student performance, as required by federal law. Some high schools struggle to meet participation requirements because the test is given on a Saturday. Low participation rates can jeopardize federal funding for underprivileged students.

So this spring, Portland High took an all-hands-on-deck approach to getting students to take the test, Johnson said. Teachers and other staff members touted the test in every class and with every 11th-grader, using strategies such as an adopt-a-junior program, an SAT Question of the Day contest and an offer to give rides to the test.

When the SAT was administered at the high school on May 1, 174 of 215 eligible juniors took it, said Mark MacLean, guidance supervisor. An additional 23 students took the test in advance because they have special education needs or are learning to speak English, MacLean said.

An additional 10 students missed the test on May 1 and took it during the following week. Their results don’t count with the College Board, which administers the SAT, but the Maine Department of Education considers them valid, MacLean said.

Among 215 juniors who were eligible to take the SAT, five were students who regularly missed school throughout the year, MacLean said. The high school will ask the state to discount those students from the final total.

In the end, 207 of 210 juniors who regularly attended Portland High during the 2009-10 school year took the test, resulting in a participation rate of 98.6 percent, MacLean said.

“We succeeded because the entire faculty got behind the effort,” Johnson said.

“For years we thought we had worked as hard as we could to make kids understand the importance of the test, but this year we went above and beyond that.”

Johnson and his staff started developing a plan last fall to increase SAT participation. One of the first strategies they came up with was the adopt-a-junior program.

Johnson distributed a list of juniors to all teachers and asked them to “adopt” at least one they knew pretty well and foster a mentoring relationship to prepare them for the SAT. All of the students were adopted within a day. Some students had two or three teachers keeping track of them.

In addition to SAT preparation classes for college-bound students, Portland High offered classes to show multilingual students how to take the test. Students who answered the SAT Question of the Day were entered in a random daily drawing for a free pizza.

Other strategies included appealing to parents of students who are learning to speak English, giving rides to students who might skip the test otherwise and giving away prizes at a barbecue lunch after the test.

Johnson said the success of the whole-faculty approach to SAT participation demonstrated how it can be used to address other challenges, such as reducing dropout rates and encouraging more students to pursue higher education.

“It was a major lesson for all of us,” he said.

Johnson and MacLean said they hadn’t received the schoolwide SAT scores from the May 1 test session.


Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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