Maine could become one of the first states in the nation to use the oft-criticized SAT college entrance exam as its test for high school students.
State officials are planning to replace Maine's homegrown standardized test, the Maine Educational Assessment, with the SAT next April. Students would take the tough college entrance exam in 11th grade, but they would not need to pass it to graduate. The move does not need legislative approval.
Education Commissioner Susan Gendron is pushing the plan to boost students' aspirations for postsecondary education. About 75 percent of Maine high school students already take the SAT, a test that some groups have opposed as being easily coached and a poor measure of what students learn in high school. While not all students are ready for a four-year university, some can get into two-year colleges, Gendron said.
''What I want our young people to know is there is a college program for every student," Gendron said. ''We need to create that culture and provide them with the tools so they can be successful."
Studies done for the state show that the SAT can be used to measure what Maine's curriculum standards require schools to teach, she said. In 2005, Maine students scored an average of 509 on the SAT verbal section, one point higher than the national average, and 505 in math, 15 points lower than the national average, according to scores released yesterday.
Maine would pay for students to take the SAT at least once, roughly $41 a student. Gendron said students could take the test multiple times, although the state could not pay for all of them. The College Board, which administers the test, offers financial assistance for low-income students to take the SAT. Disabled students could have certain accommodations for the SAT, just as they do for the existing test, Gendron said.
All Maine 10th-graders already take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, taken by students across the country to qualify for scholarships.
The proposal is winning support from Maine principals who agree that it could persuade more Maine students to think about college, said Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals Association.
Michigan is also mulling replacing its high school test with the SAT or with its competitor, the ACT, said Tom Rudin, vice president of government relations for the College Board. Illinois and Colorado use the ACT as part of their high school assessment, he said.
Anand Vaishnav can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.