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One less barrier to college: LAUSD paid for 4,000 high schoolers to take the SAT

Standardized test scores are plateauing in California schools, and some are calling for a fundamental shift in teaching strategies. Stock photo by Shannan Muskopf/flickr Creative Commons

An estimated 4,000 high school juniors on 29 campuses from South Los Angeles to San Pedro got a break from their normal class schedules on Wednesday to take the SAT college prep exam.

And none of those students paid a cent to take the test. This year, for the first time, the L.A. Unified School District helped picked up the tab.

The College Board, the organization which administers the SAT, offers to waive the registration fee — normally $60 for the full exam — for students who qualify as low-income.

But as part of a program L.A. Unified piloted this year in Local District South — the region that oversees schools from Watts to Gardena and Carson, to the Port of L.A. — district officials helped secure students' fee waivers to take the SAT. The district then picked up the remaining costs for any students who didn't qualify for a fee waiver.

Christopher Downing, who oversees Local District South schools for L.A. Unified, says the pilot program will remove one stumbling block on the road to college, since many four-year universities require students to take the SAT or ACT. But he said some students are unable to afford the registration fee or make a long bus journey on a Saturday to an unfamiliar school to take a lengthy test.

"We aren’t just concerned with students graduating from high school," Downing said. "We're concerned with providing them opportunities to continue their academic career."

The district is also offering a make-up day for students on March 21.

According to the most recent state data available, Local District South's rates of SAT participation were slightly lower than the district average.

Local District South schools enrolled more than 4,400 12th graders in 2015-16. Compare that to 2,392 students in the region's schools took the SAT during the 2015-16 school year. (Younger students may also take the SAT.)

In L.A. Unified — excluding the district's charter schools — more than 30,000 twelfth graders were enrolled. More than 17,600 students took the SAT.