Originally created 02/18/99

Senate approves SAT classes



ATLANTA -- Georgia has ranked 49th in the country on the much-ballyhooed SAT test for years, but now the Senate wants to improve the odds that the state won't languish on the bottom forever.

The Senate voted 50-0 Wednesday to give schools the option of letting students earn half of an elective credit for taking Scholastic Assessment Test preparation classes.

The legislation, which now heads to the House, calls for the course to offer "an opportunity for review and practice" for students hoping to take the SAT.

The measure has already raised some eyebrows in the House.

"That's certainly a novel approach to education," Rep. Charlie Smith, D-St. Marys, a school-reform advocate, said sarcastically.

However, Georgia politicians have been bent on improving SAT scores the past few years.

Lawmakers gave the Department of Education about $1 million last year to pay for PSAT preparatory tests and a computer program that promised 100-point gains.

A few school systems showed remarkable improvement. However, the state SAT average inched up just a point last year, leaving Georgia at 968 out of a possible 1,600. The national average was 1,017.

Georgia ranked 49th again, barely ahead of South Carolina.

The tiny gain put in doubt the state Board of Education's pledge to reach an average SAT score of 1,000 by 2001.

Testing experts have long warned against putting too much weight on the SAT. They say high school grade point averages are often a better predictor of college performance.

But colleges put a lot of emphasis on the test when they consider which students to accept. And, lawmakers said, so do industries when they are determining whether to move to an area.

"We have to compete; our students have to compete," said Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, who urged colleagues to support the bill.

"There is no doubt our students must raise their SAT scores," said Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, who sponsored the legislation. "Our students deserve the best possible preparation."

One of the problems for Georgia has been that nearly two-thirds of high school students take the SAT. In other states with higher scores, only the top students take the test.

Rome teacher Richard Marable, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he supported the bill because it will let students know what to expect on the SAT.

"A lot of these kids get in there and they've never taken tests like this before," Mr. Marable added.

State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko said students should be able to get credit for classes to help them learn how to take tests better.

"If we can offer credit for ceramics, we ought to be able to offer credit for study skills," Mrs. Schrenko said.

"I wouldn't have trouble giving credit as long as there are clear objectives, and you taught generic test-taking skills," said Barbara Christmas, director of PAGE, the state's largest teacher organization. "If it's just learning how to take the SAT, that's something else.

"I think a lot of parents would be supportive of it because a lot of parents are paying now for their children to take those kind of courses."

Before voting on the SAT bill, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the Senate president, stopped an attempt by Republicans to attach an amendment to end the social promotion of students to the next grade, whether children are ready or not.

The Republican bill has been bottled up by Mr. Marable's education committee.

James Salzer is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.