Test Prep Program to Continue at Mercersburg, Ensuring Access and Equity

By Sally O’Rourke
Director of College Counseling
 
As college admission has become more selective and test scores have played an increased role, students began to take both the ACT and the SAT, in addition to SAT Subject Tests.
In an effort to reduce anxiety and ensure the best possible outcome for each student, three years ago the Board of Regents decided to pilot a standardized test preparation program for all our upper middlers (11th graders). The first year, students met with tutors in small groups during a free rotation.
 
In the second and third years, the tutoring has been offered as individual sessions via Skype or FaceTime. This allows tutors to focus on the specific needs of each student. In placing students into the test prep program, Dr. Julia Stojak Maurer ’90, our assistant head of school for academic affairs, and I work directly with Nitin Sawhney, principal and vice president of Marks Education. We administer a diagnostic ACT in May to lower-middler (10th-grade) students and use the results from that test—as well as those of the PSATs and each student’s current math and English courses and grades—to determine which assessment will maximize each student’s opportunities for success: the ACT or the SAT.
 
The outcomes of the pilot program have been remarkable. We have seen a reduction in the number of tests students are taking from 3.5 per student for the Class of 2014 to 2.6 per student for the Class of 2016. Additionally, students express lower anxiety and stress in regards to the testing process, as they are better prepared. Below are the newly calculated mean and middle 50 percent for each test for the last four years. The middle 50 percent of scores is the method by which colleges report their standardized test scores; it means that 25 percent of the students taking the test scored lower than that range, and 25 percent of the students scored higher than that range. The classes of 2015 and 2016 were the first to participate in the test prep program.
 
Class
Number of Students Taking Test
SAT Critical Reading
SAT Math
SAT Writing
 
 
Mean
Middle 50%
Mean
Middle 50%
Mean
Middle 50%
2016
59
663
600-720
663
590-730
661
610-730
2015
48
679
630-720
665
620-710
672
630-720
2014
85
613
560-670
627
570-670
617
560-670
2013
85
617
560-690
638
560-700
617
540-700
 
 
Class
Number of Students Taking Test
Composite ACT
Middle 50%
2016
45
29
26-32
2015
49
27
25-31
2014
20
29
26-32
2013
27
28
26-30
*      Data for all years does not include postgraduate students or one-year seniors, as they do not participate in the test prep program.
 
As the College Board prepares to release its redesigned SAT in March 2016, tutors from Marks Education have already begun working with the Class of 2017. Students and parents received a letter this past summer informing them which test prep group they had been assigned to, when they would begin tutoring, and what test dates they would be taking which test. As more information is released by the College Board about the redesigned test, Marks Education provides updated tutoring in content in strategies for students who will be taking the new test.
 
This fall, the Board of Regents voted to continue the standardized test preparation program for all upper middlers. This announcement is a commitment to equity and access for all Mercersburg students in their pursuit of higher education.
 
 
Sally came to Mercersburg from Andover High School in Andover, Mass., where she was a college counselor, AP coordinator, and team leader for the college advising program. In secondary education, she has also served as the director of guidance and college counseling at Our Lady of Nazareth Academy in Wakefield, Mass., and the college/guidance counselor at McLean High School in McLean, Va. Sally has been an admissions application reader at Northeastern University in Boston and a college counselor at Campus Bound in Lexington, Mass. From 2007 to 2009, she was the resident director for grades 9–12 at Andover A Better Chance, a non-profit organization that gives talented youth of color the opportunity to achieve their dreams through education. Her husband, fellow faculty member Brian O’Rourke, teaches math at Mercersburg. They have three children. 
Back
Founded in 1893 in the heart of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, Mercersburg is a private, coed, college preparatory boarding school with approximately 435 students (15 percent are day), grades 9-12 and postgraduate.
We offer 170 courses, including AP and Honors, more than $7 million in financial aid, 26 varsity sports, and a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts center.
Located 90 minutes from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and within easy driving distance of New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
300 East Seminary Street, Mercersburg, PA 17236
GPS Address: 10951 Buchanan Trail West, Mercersburg, PA 17236
717-328-6173