AUGUSTA – High schools are offering breakfast, rides to school and the chance to stay home on Monday — whatever it takes to get juniors to school for three hours and 45 minutes of testing today for the SAT.

“Every school has their own little culture around the day,” said Dan Hupp, the Maine High School Assessment coordinator at the Maine Department of Education.

Since 2006, Maine has required high school juniors to take the SAT to fulfill requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Students can take the test as many times as they want, but the one given the first Saturday in May of a student’s junior year is critically important for schools.

A student who misses today’s test can make it up on the first Saturday in June, and students who cannot take tests on a Saturday can request to take the SAT on another day for Maine purposes only – meaning college admission offices will not accept the scores.

Hupp estimated that more than 90 percent of juniors sit for the May SAT each year.

Schools must have 95 percent of their juniors take the SAT by the end of the year, or they fail to meet benchmarks set by No Child Left Behind. If a school misses targets in consecutive years, certain improvement steps are mandated.

Maine is the only state that requires the SAT and has the nation’s highest participation rate — 96 percent last year.

Fewer than 10 high schools missed the 95 percent benchmark for participation in 2011, Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said.

The state pays every junior’s $49 SAT fee. It also reimburses school districts for transportation costs on the day of the test and allows school districts to count it as a legal attendance day, giving juniors another day off – frequently the following Monday. About 60 percent of schools count test day for attendance, Hupp said.

Six states require all students to take another college admissions test, the ACT, and Louisiana will require it starting next year. All the ACT-mandatory states are in the West, Midwest and Southeast. Maine has the country’s lowest ACT participation rate at 9 percent.

When deciding between the two tests as a replacement for the high school Maine Education Assessment, state officials chose partly on the basis of familiarity, Hupp said. About two-thirds of Maine students already were taking the SAT.

Paying SAT fees, transportation reimbursements and other associated expenses costs about the same as developing the Maine Education Assessment each year, Hupp said.

Maine adopted the SAT to encourage students to think about college and to motivate students by giving them a test that has an impact on their prospects, Hupp said.

Although SAT scores affect college admissions, performance on the Maine High School Assessment — which includes the SAT tests of math, reading and writing as well as a separate science test — does not affect graduation decisions. That sets Maine apart from some other states, such as Massachusetts, that require students to pass a standardized test to earn a diploma.

High school guidance counselors said the use of the SAT has motivated students.

At Monmouth Academy, the portion of students not taking the SAT has dropped from 25 or 30 percent to virtually zero, counselor Dennis Grover said. School staff emphasize the importance of the test for students’ lives.

“We tell them that history has shown us that some of our students who may not consider themselves as college material may do better than they expect, and it creates a spark for those students as well,” Grover said.

Grover said school staff also talk about the importance of the test for the school.

“We do appeal to the students’ pride of school as well, in terms of doing their best,” Grover said. “We’re honest with them and let them know that not only are they scored on the test, but the school is as well. I think they understand that.”

Westbrook High School Principal Thomas O’Malley said school officials held several meeting with juniors to talk about the exam and “emphasize the importance of putting forward their best effort.”

“Our students are mature and responsible enough to know this is important for them,” he said.

O’Malley said nearly 170 juniors will take the exam. Those with parental permission will be allowed to stay home from school on Monday.

Samantha Butler, a 17-year-old junior at Thornton Academy in Saco, said she has had both the SAT exam and prom on her mind this week. She said she has been studying at home for the exam, which she will take for the first time.

“It’s a little stressful and it’s sad to miss out on a day to sleep in, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” she said.

Butler said she expects to have just a couple hours after the exam to have her hair and make-up done, get dressed and head out for photos at the traditional prom photo spot at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

“Everyone thinks it’s a little bit rushed, but I haven’t heard any major complaints about it,” she said.

To address concerns about inequality, Maine makes some SAT preparation materials available for free. In addition, all students take the Preliminary SAT in 10th grade, which reveals a student’s areas for improvement.

Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale also requires juniors to take the PSAT, which is administered in October. Results come back in early winter, giving students additional targeted preparation time.

Hall-Dale had 100 percent SAT participation last year. The school brings in a caterer to prepare a hot breakfast for students and makes sure everyone has a ride to school.

“The thing that we’ve been pretty successful with is making sure that SATs for juniors are really just part of the culture and the general expectations for kids at school,” guidance director Greg Henderson said. “They all know they’re going to take the PSAT in the fall and SAT in the spring.”

Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

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