All Pasco school district eighth-graders will be able to take free PSAT 8/9 

The Laker | By B. C. Manion | August 1, 2023

The Pasco County School Board has decided to give all eighth-graders in the district an opportunity to take the PSAT 8/9 for free.

The decision followed questions raised by school board member Colleen Beaudoin regarding the value of adding another test that she said would result in a loss of valuable instructional time for teachers.

District staff asked the school board to provide free PSAT 8/9 tests for eighth-graders, across-the-board.

The agenda item notes that the test provides early feedback on knowledge in areas that matter most for college and career readiness, including reading math, writing and language sections.

Vanessa Hilton, the district’s chief academic officer, explained the request this way: “We have tried to provide this opportunity for students, but there’s a little bit of inequity — or a lot of inequity in our district.

“We’ve been able to use Title 1 funds to administer at Title 1 schools,” Hilton said.

Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin questioned whether it was worth the loss of instructional time to give district eighth-graders the option to take the PSAT 8/9 test. (File)

Title 1 schools are those that have a high percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals.

In other schools, the test was administered based on parents requesting it and paying for it, Hilton said. 

“What we didn’t want to happen is to continue that inequity. This is a way for us to create that opportunity, across-the-board,” Hilton said. “Rather than have it be, really just if you happen to know.”

But Beaudoin wasn’t so sure that the PSAT 8/9’s value outstrips preserving the instructional time it would replace.

“The PSAT is practice for the SAT, right? We do provide that opportunity at 10th grade, for all of our 10th-graders. That’s where they can qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

“It is available for ninth-graders and 11th-graders to take it at school, as well.

“I’m struggling to find where the value is, to do a pre-test for a pre-test, with the middle school.

“I’m concerned about the loss of instructional time. It’s 145 minutes, that’s two to three class periods. We already give so many assessments, that we should know where our kids are. Our teachers are giving assessments. We have the FAST test given three times a year.

“I don’t like the idea of losing more instructional time and adding in another test for kids, when we are already pushing forward with giving kids opportunities. We’re trying to get everyone to Algebra 1 in eighth grade.

“I just don’t understand why we would take away these easy three class periods, and whether it’s optional or not, we know that if half the class is going to take a test, they’re not going to be teaching the half that remain,” Beaudoin said.

But board members Cynthia Armstrong and Alison Crumbley said they think the PSAT provides  valuable information for students, parents and district staff.

“This would be more of a nationally normed test,” Armstrong said.

“That is correct,” Hilton responded.

“That’s where I see the value of it. It’s really going to compare them with students all across the United States to see where they stand,” Armstrong said.

Pasco County School Board member Cynthia Armstrong believes parents, students and district staff would benefit from information that would be provided by results from PSAT 8/9 tests.

“This is actually a test that would be meaningful to parents. Parents are going to use it because it gives them a benchmark that they can work with their kids on, because it is a nationally normed test. This gives parents something they can understand. They can see how their kids compare to students across the nation.

“I think it’s not only a tool for the schools, but I also think it’s a tool for the parents — that they can easily understand. Because how they perform on state standards, in their minds (parents’) doesn’t necessarily translate into how they’re going to perform in college.”

Crumbley added: “To Mrs. Armstrong’s points, you are getting a national gauge in a test — a lot of these kids are going to have to take the SAT a few years later. Well, they get to try the test because it’s very similar. They also get to see where they rank on national standards, which I think is very important. And, they identify weaknesses on another type of test that is different than the Florida (state) and the course tests.

“This is a whole different realm … that I think is important for the student, in particular, for the student that’s going on to college. They get to see where they are strong and where they are weak.

“This gives them a really good indication.”

Marcy Hetzler-Nettles, assistant superintendent for middle schools, said the results provide guidance to students and to parents on the accelerated coursework students could take in high school.

“The other information they do receive is more interest-based and aptitude-based, outside of academics, so that might lead them to a field of study that they hadn’t considered previously,” Hetlzer-Nettles added.

Superintendent Kurt Browning vigorously advocated for adding the opportunity to take the PSAT for all eighth-graders.

“The thing that excites me about the PSAT in eighth grade is that it does help us identify those students earlier for advanced coursework, before they get into high school and they start setting their high school trajectory, if you will.

“The value that we get from administering the PSAT in eighth grade exceeds the downside of that lost instructional time.”

Browning also noted that the information that’s gleaned from the PSAT is good for all students, not just some students.

The district has allocated $68,000 of its general revenue fund to cover the cost of the test.

After the tests are administered and the district collects and analyzes the data, a report will be brought back to the board, Browning said.

Armstrong said she also wants to know how the information from the results will be transmitted to parents.

“This could be a tool that could really help parents understand the capabilities of their child,” Armstrong said.

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