For many students, taking the SAT represents the first steps in the college application process.
The exam also provides them with a sense of how prepared they might be for the more rigorous college coursework.
As school districts across Orange County work to boost the number of students who are college and career ready, more of them are now offering the SAT for free to all their students. Juniors and seniors at dozens of high schools across the county now can take the exam without forking over the application fee of up to $104.
The districts that offer the SAT for free to all students include Orange Unified School District, Santa Ana Unified School District, Laguna Beach Unified School District and Tustin Unified School District.
These districts also allowed students to take the SAT during a regular school day, instead of having them come in on a Saturday as traditionally has been the case. And they, along with Irvine Unified and Anaheim Union, offer the practice exam, or PSAT, to students for free.
“Offering OUSD students the opportunity to take the SAT college entrance exam during the school day promotes college readiness and affords students the opportunity who may not otherwise have taken the exam,” Orange Unified interim Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen said in a news release.
“As a 21st Century District, we seek to support post-secondary success in our global economy and ensure equity and access for all students,” she said.
A growing number of districts across California are offering the SAT for free to all their students during the regular school day as part of an effort to increase the number of students who take it, especially those from low-income families.
A report from EdSource in August listed 22 school districts statewide that offered the SAT for free to all students in the 2016-17 school year, up from just four districts in 2014-15.
EdSource cited research that showed that schools that offered the SAT for free had an increase of 2 to 3 percentage points in the number of students enrolling in four-year colleges. The research also showed that these schools had a 10-percentage point increase in students who otherwise would not have taken the test.
These districts have used a combination of federal and state grants, including the California College Readiness Block Grant, a $200 million program created to help districts increase the number of college-ready students, to pay for the exam fees.
Students across all districts, even those where the SAT is not offered for free, now have access to free online SAT tutorials through the nonprofit Khan Academy.
The Orange County Department of Education partnered with Khan Academy earlier this year to allow the academy to better measure how new initiatives and programs would work by testing them with targeted groups. In return, the Academy is offering implementation support that includes planning with local districts and providing technical assistance to help staff better work with the Academy.
At Orange High School, seniors took the SAT on Oct. 11, while students in other grades took the PSAT during the school’s second annual SAT School Day.
“This is an amazing opportunity for our community of high school students who took the SAT for free,” Principal Dennis McCuistion said in a news release. “This opportunity can potentially open doors for our students’ future.”