PSAT meets mixed reception from CMS community

This fall, the Preliminary SAT test was administered to eighth graders at Carmel Middle School for the second year in a row, inducing stress and dispute over whether giving the test at such an early stage is entirely beneficial.

All high schoolers are or will soon be familiar with the PSAT. Infamous for the anxiety it causes, this standardized test is meant to prepare students for the SAT and to act as a qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

While all juniors are required to take it, the district has in recent years decided to open the PSAT up to sophomores and even freshmen, encouraging them to get prepared early on. Specifically, 101 sophomores and 18 freshmen took the test this year, according to CHS counselor Jeff Schatz.

“It’s been kind of intentional for the last few years as part of a district plan to have students have earlier exposure to the test, [or] at least an option to have earlier exposure to the test, so we don’t make it mandatory,” Schatz says.

Now the district has been looking to extend this effort to before students even get to high school. According to CMS Principal Ken Griest, the district initiated the effort to prepare middle school students last year with the College Board’s “Readistep Test.”

PSAT Chart

This chart shows that taking the PSAT correlates with higher average SAT scores, a fact that is CUSD’s justification for implementing the PSAT 8/9. Courtesy of the College Board.

“Interestingly, last year the test went pretty well and seemed appropriate for the kids,” Griest says about this experimental test.

However, this year College Board replaced Readistep with the PSAT 8/9, a version of the standard PSAT—designed for 10th grade comprehension—that is hypothetically pared down to the eighth-grade level, but with less than satisfactory results.

“The PSAT 8/9,” which all eighth graders got time out of the school day to take, “was significantly more difficult and covered a lot of material that our eighth graders hadn’t had,” Griest says. “So, the jury is out on how we did on the test, but I would say the test we gave this year was too difficult and created stress with some of our kids and parents.”

There is clearly value in getting students thinking about the PSAT before they have to take it officially, and, as Griest points out, in letting some of the more advanced eighth graders try their hand at it. But questions have arisen as to whether it is beneficial to have the idea looming over the general middle schooler’s head for four years.

There is also concern that the College Board may be promoting the PSAT 8/9 with the motivation of getting more students to take the SAT, which the College Board also gives, over the ACT.

“But is the SAT the test we want to align ourselves with?” Schatz asks. “Because it’s redesigned…it will be harder to assess results on the SAT for the next year or two.”

While no solution has yet been proposed to the dilemma caused by opposition to this year’s PSAT 8/9, Griest says the district is looking for the right middle ground.

-Ari Freedman