West Hall Middle School eighth-graders will get the opportunity to take the PSAT this fall through a pilot project approved by the Hall County Schools board last week.
The board agreed to spend $2,500 to $3,000 for the testing, which will allow all eighth-graders to take the test. Principal Rodney Stephens said Friday he has about 300 eighth-graders, but parents will have the opportunity to opt out for their students if they choose.
Laurie Ecke, assistant director for innovative and advanced programs in Hall County, told the school board last week the test would be similar to the PSAT and SAT given in high school, but at the eighth- and ninth-grade level. She said the test results could provide important information for the school system, but also for the students to help them know what areas they need to work on before taking the test in high school.
“They can begin thinking in eighth grade about, ‘Here’s my score on my PSAT. Where do I want to go to school? What do I need to get there?’” Ecke told the board. “We see it as a great opportunity for them. When looking at moving from eighth to ninth grade. It’s a bridge time where students can try something new. Maybe they’ve gone through middle school and they are just now taking an honors course. Maybe they are just now considering what they might really love academically. This is a way of mining for strengths, as well.”
She added the test would be given in the fall when there are not other standardized tests required at school.
Superintendent Will Schofield and board members expressed some concern about adding a new test, but the board agreed to try the PSAT at West Hall Middle this year and get feedback before considering going further.
“For years, we’ve been extremely critical of national and state governments that make everybody take the same test even when they have significant disabilities or in terms of readiness, (are) not in a position to take these tests,” Schofield said. He recommended the pilot at West Hall Middle, emphasizing all students should not have to take the test.
Stephens said he sees the pilot testing of the PSAT as “more than just another test.”
“It gives our kids an overview of what their strengths are and also gives them some insight in terms of what they need to do in terms of weaknesses,” Stephens said. “It also is tied to really good online resources. It kind of allows them to pinpoint weaknesses, so if they’ve got their eyes on a particular career path they can be a little more better prepared to take the course work that they need to take when they are in high school, so they can go down that path.”
Stephens said the PSAT will likely be offered to eighth-graders in October and added that those who take the test will have opportunities next semester to go to the school’s learning lab and use the online resources to strengthen areas and “take advantage of weaknesses.”
Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall County, told the board middle school principals were supportive of the idea, but West Hall was the only one to volunteer to try it this year.
“I wasn't overly interested in our school being a ‘guinea pig,’ per se, in administering the PSAT to eighth-graders,” Stephens wrote in an email about being the only school taking on the project this year. “More than anything, when the idea was first presented, I saw golden opportunities there for our students, and I saw this as another layer of supporting them in developing their personal learning goals.”