For better or worse, a higher SAT score can open the doors to a wider range of colleges and financial aid opportunities. But NCAN members know that many students don’t have access to quality (or any) test preparation, and they are taking steps to level the test-prep playing field.
Each year at the NCAN National Conference, College Board presents the Khanfidence Builder Award to recognize a college access/success organization for incorporating Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy into their program to build students' readiness for the SAT and college. As we gear up for a new school year, NCAN reached out to past recipients of the award to learn what advice they could share with other organizations looking to offer or expand SAT prep for their students.
NCAN member CollegeSpring – the recipient of the 2017 Khanfidence Builder Award – partners with schools in California and New York to deliver high-quality test prep to students who are historically underrepresented in higher education. Since 2008, CollegeSpring has helped over 25,000 students from low-income backgrounds increase their SAT scores by an average of 104 points, according to the organization's website.
CollegeSpring CEO Dr. Yoon S. Choi shared some of her expertise with NCAN via email about building an effective SAT prep program.
Could you briefly share how the CollegeSpring test prep program is structured?
CollegeSpring’s main goal is to give schools and teachers the resources they need to provide SAT and ACT preparation during the school day to entire junior classes. We partner with public high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, and New York that primarily serve students who are underrepresented in higher education, including students from low-income households, students of color, and those who would be the first in their family to attend college. After we form a partnership with a school that wants to offer test prep, we work closely with their administrators to integrate the program into the existing school day. We then train teachers to deliver the program, providing coaching, materials, support, and data analysis throughout the school year. Our goal with school-day instruction is to reach students where they already are, and we want them to be able to work with teachers who already know them and with whom they are already comfortable.
Do you have any advice for how to get buy-in from schools? From students?
Some of this happens naturally, when schools decide that they want to start offering test prep services to their students. CollegeSpring offers its curriculum and support on a fee-for-service model, so schools are invested in what we bring. For example, some of the school districts where we work recently started to offer a school-day SAT option. This is a great first step to increasing access, but many schools are realizing that students need more help preparing for the test in order to demonstrate their true potential during the college admissions process. But in addition to these external factors, it’s really important for us to understand how we fit in with a school’s unique goals and vision of success for their students. One of the ways we do this is by participating in school-level events so that people know who we are and have a sense of us as real partners in creating a college-going culture on campus.
For students, we create buy-in by helping them understand both the short-term and the long-term gains they can make through our program. Many other test prep providers focus only on score gains, but we have a more holistic approach that we call Test Confidence. We focus on helping students understand the college admissions process more fully and gain confidence in their ability to apply to college. We always stress that their SAT score does not define them; instead, it’s an opportunity to build skills for the test, for academics, and for life after high school. This is why we include a lot of social-emotional learning content in our lessons focused on goal setting, growth mindset, and motivation.
How much time do students spend studying for the SAT in the CollegeSpring program (and when do they begin the test prep)?
Students take the CollegeSpring program during their junior year of high school. They receive a minimum of 35 hours of classroom instruction throughout the school year, and they also take two to four full-length diagnostic tests (an additional five hours each). For teachers, we offer eight hours of pre-service teacher training in addition to our year-round coaching.
How do you incorporate Khan Academy into the CollegeSpring curriculum?
We use Khan Academy as a complement to our own curriculum. It’s a great resource for teachers when they need additional expertise around a particular topic, and it offers additional practice for students when necessary. While Khan Academy is a great tool, we believe it is most effective when used alongside in-person instruction by knowledgeable, caring adults who can help motivate students about the WHY of preparing for the SAT.
What tips would you offer college access/success organizations looking to add new or improve existing SAT prep programming?
It’s vital for college access/success organizations to recognize teachers’ expertise and to work with a school’s existing strengths. At CollegeSpring, we see teachers as the main drivers of change, and our goal is to give them the support they need to focus on the work they do in the classroom, both teaching in their subject areas and building relationships with students. For college access/success organization who want to add test prep to their offerings, I’d suggest partnering with an expert in test preparation to help design the programming and curriculum rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. After you have high-quality materials and curriculum, you can start to think about the best ways to support teachers in delivering that curriculum.
I also think organizations need to understand that high-quality test prep takes time. Students aren’t going to see the same results from a week-long cram session that they’d see from a sustained course of preparation and practice over an entire school year. Students need time to get comfortable with the material and the pacing, and they need time to get accustomed to the test itself.
Thank you to Dr. Choi for her time and responses and to CollegeSpring for its NCAN membership. We will return soon with more SAT prep insights from NCAN members.
(Top photo via Ben Mullins on Unsplash, photo of Dr. Choi courtesy of CollegeSpring)