One Person’s Success on Gap Closing
In the past two years, local newspaper articles have reported that, on average, African American high school students in Fairfax County, Va., score lower on the SAT exam than students of other racial groups. In one article, county school officials said they did not understand why this remains a problem. I believe one of the biggest problems is lack of preparation for the exam.I have been teaching an SAT preparation course in Fairfax, Va., along with my instruction partner, for three years. Most of our students are White. There are a few minorities in each class, but very rarely do Black students enroll. Many of the White students take the class multiple times, for extra preparation. I have noticed that many Asian students sit through a yearlong prep course, regardless of its length or cost. Most of the students show up on time, are ready and prepared to learn and do not miss class. Moreover, they take the actual test over and over, until they are satisfied with their scores. These students are driven, despite their already hectic schedules of academics, sports and part-time jobs. The few African Americans who take my class share this drive, but there are simply too few of them.Recently, I had a conversation with a young African American male who had already taken the SAT, but who had not done well. I asked if he had prepared for the exam. He said that he had not. His mother chimed in, saying, “I don’t know the first thing about how to get him registered — who to call or anything?” This is the standard reply from most of the African American parents I have spoken with. Others complain vehemently about the costs of preparation classes, which range anywhere from $200 to $700. I am convinced that one reason so many of the Black students who take the test fare so poorly is that they take it cold. Realizing this problem, I approached my pastor two years ago with a proposal to teach the SAT prep course at my church for a reduced fee. After the first 10-week session, the class was so successful that the testimonies speak for themselves. One student said that prior to taking the course, he was a timid test taker. After learning the strategies offered in the class, however, his score was so impressive that Yale, Harvard, a military academy and Princeton solicited him. His parents wrote to me telling how pleased they were with his success and thanking me for offering the class. Those of you who are in positions of authority: Please start shouting about this very serious issue! Encourage parents, teens and organizations to take this matter to heart. If you are a parent, learn what you can about the score your son or daughter needs to get into the college of his/her choice and encourage the student to aim for that score or higher. Sacrifice and pay for a prep class, no matter what it costs. In some cases, tuition assistance for the course may be available. Once your student is enrolled in a prep course, stay in touch with the instructor to learn of changes of dates, times and assignments. Also, support the instructor by encouraging your teen to take the class seriously. Consider it an investment. You won’t regret it.Finally, if you are a student, mimic the study habits of your high-performing peers. Take the preparation class and the actual exam multiple times until you are satisfied with your score. Remember that your SAT score can be either a key into the college of your choice or a barrier between you and your collegiate dreams. Scoring well is also your opportunity to change the statistics about Black students’ SAT performance. Ultimately, young people, the future is in your hands.
—Vernell Johnson is an SAT preparation course instructor who resides in Centerville, Va.
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