Originally created 04/28/97

S-O-F-T-W-A-R-E spells SAT relief for students



Corl Bucknor spells college entrance exam confidence as S-O-F-T-W-A-R-E.

Corl, 17, a senior at Academy of Richmond County High School, smiles broadly when asked his prediction for how he'll do on the Scholastic Assessment Test on Saturday, when he takes the SAT for the fourth time.

"One thousand" he says.

If so, he'll have raised his SAT results 320 points since fall with the help of specialty computer software being used in Richmond County's nine high schools. Corl currently has an 810 SAT score - up 130 points from his first test.

"I fall asleep, get back up and study," is how he says he has been spending his days preparing for Saturday's test.

Instead of all-nighters pouring over textbooks, though, Corl is one of scores of Richmond County students clicking on computers to prepare for the SAT.

"He's spent a lot of time on the program in here," says Cleo Pond, data processing teacher at ARC.

Richmond County is in its sixth month of using specialty software programs to prepare students for the SAT. While system SAT scores won't be available until August, most students say they've already seen their scores go up after drilling with the software before taking the test.

"My score improved about, I think, 70 points," says David Headquist, 17, a senior at A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering High School, a magnet school. He earned a 1,220 on his second SAT attempt after using the SAT Trainer program.

But it remains to be seen if the software is the answer to Richmond County's SAT woes, despite the anecdotal tales of students' successes. The system typically scores below the Georgia SAT average, which itself is the second-lowest in the nation.

"It can help, but what I think will help more than anything else is for students to take college prep courses and take the PSAT," says Superintendent Charles Larke. The PSAT is a precursor to the SAT, or a practice SAT.

Incoming freshmen must meet several curriculum requirements to take the SAT using Richmond County schools' code, by which scores are tabulated. Those changes combined with the software ought to help schools meet Dr. Larke's goal of raising SAT scores 5 points per school per year, he says.

"Software will not help students if they don't take algebra and geometry," Dr. Larke says. "And if they don't take literature courses and language arts courses, I don't know how much good software could do."

So far, usage of the software has been spotty at first, then growing as a SAT test date nears, counselors say. Dr. Larke keeps logs of how often each school uses its SAT software, but a report isn't due out until May 5. Most schools reported slower-than-anticipated usage last fall, he says.

"I expected more attendance," Dr. Larke says. "Some schools are using it more than others. But most schools find it used regularly as it gets closer to a test date."

At ARC, an average of 75 to 100 students use the SAT software, although many students come back several times, Ms. Pond says. At A.R. Johnson, with a smaller enrollment, the average is 25 to 35 using the software on a regular basis, but up to 40 when it's time to take the SAT, says Henrietta Mason, business education teacher.

Richmond County paid about $500 to $600 per school for two software programs, SAT Trainer and SAT Cliffs Notes, and workbooks, says Carol Taylor, educational media director.

"It has been wonderful," Ms. Mason says. "Best money spent ever."

She gushes because of a struggling student who came bounding into her computer lab one day so excited about how many SAT questions he recognized from his hours using the software. He found 14 real SAT questions he'd already mastered on the practice SAT on the computer, she says.

"You would've thought that somebody gave him money because he was so happy," Ms. Mason says.

At A.R. Johnson, as in other schools, students duck into computer labs in the mornings, after school and during lunch breaks to log onto the SAT help. It's not uncommon for students to skip lunch to spend more time on the practice sessions, particularly as a SAT test date nears, Ms. Pond says.

"They tell you how to break down the questions and the words in it," Corl says. "Most questions are just like the SAT questions."

David says he also found SAT questions he recognized from the software practice tests and he attributes his increasing score to the overlap.

"Going through it gave me a familiarity with the test," he says. "I pretty much came with confidence, so I could score higher."