Op-Ed: New Canaan Needs to Better Prepare Students for SAT


“Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.” –Leila Janah 

Recently, I was speaking with a friend and he expressed frustration not only with his performance on the SAT but also his lack of access to test prep resources due to financial constraints. I believe this is unfair given that most students at NCHS can both afford and take for granted that private SAT classes are an essential part of their high school journey. 

We pride ourselves on our academic rigor and extremely strong school district rankings. However, we do very little to prepare all students for the one test that is incredibly important for every student’s future after graduation: the SAT. 

Our town needs to offer SAT prep classes to all students. This is particularly important given an overall decline in New Canaan’s SAT scores from the 2018-19 academic year to the last reportable year, 2022-23, according to state education data. (New Canaan’s scores did improve slightly year-over-year from 2021-22 to 2022-23 in both English-Language Arts and Math, the data say.). 

Why is the SAT so important?

The SAT is one of, if not the most important test every New Canaan High School student will take. The score plays a pivotal part in college admissions which is the end goal for almost every student at NCHS. Students work day in and day out to achieve high test scores and take challenging classes for college credit or better-looking transcripts with the final goal of getting into the best college possible. But another part of the admissions process is their SAT score. According to an article from the New York Times by David Leonhardt, “the SAT and ACT offer meaningful information about an applicant’s readiness to do high-level academic work.”

The argument that SAT scores are no longer applicable due to an overall shift toward test-optional applications is false. Most test-optional schools suggest you submit your scores if they are high, meaning that they still place importance on high scores. A study from Opportunity Insights conducted by researchers from Brown, Dartmouth and the National Bureau of Economic Research said that “[s]tudents who did not submit a test score tended to struggle as much as those who had lower scores,” as shown by the chart below. This chart also shows that SAT scores are a far better indicator of performance in college than high school grades and it is certain that colleges are aware of this also and so regard the SAT as being important:

Why New Canaan needs to prepare students better for the SAT

The SAT is a crucial test for college admissions. For that reason, NCHS must prepare students for the test as 97% of students from the Class of 2023 went on to attend four-year college programs. Through its very strong education system, New Canaan does so much to prepare students for college. An example of this is a college essay workshop that is offered for free for students. This workshop is incredibly helpful and should be no different than offering SAT prep. In addition, SAT scores are integral to high school rankings which is something that New Canaan prides itself on and is a reason why lots of people move to our town. New Canaan also could improve its rankings as, according to information from the Connecticut Department of Education cited by CT Insider, less than 75% of students at NCHS meet SAT postsecondary benchmark scores, below Weston, Staples and Darien. This demonstrates an area of potential improvement for New Canaan and a statistic that’s unacceptable for many in a town with such academic rigor and a $91 million dollar educational budget. In addition, having high school-wide SAT scores improves the overall value of the hard-earned grades of all New Canaan students. To understand this concept, consider the following: Why is an A at an average high school viewed as the same as a B+ at NCHS? Because the average SAT scores, representing the one objective measure to compare the two schools, are much higher at NCHS which demonstrates higher academic rigor and overall quality of education. This shows how having higher SAT scores is extremely beneficial to New Canaan high school students: if we can improve the average SAT score, the grades that every New Canaan student works for will be viewed in a completely different, more valuable light than before. 

In addition, New Canaan is not far from achieving an average test score of 1300, which, according to an investigation by the New York Times, is a score “that can open a path to America’s top public and private colleges.” The average SAT score at NCHS is 1236, and with proper SAT tutoring, could easily exceed 1300. According to a study by Jane Dulin who used a public school to measure the effects of SAT prep on students, there was a 60-117 point improvement from her control group to the group that received extremely organized SAT prep courses. A similar 115 point improvement was achieved from tutoring as reported by the College Board, which administers the SAT. If we could achieve anywhere close to that amount of growth, it would significantly improve our state and national standings and further the benefits to all of our hard working students.

How NCHS can help students prepare.

The best possible way for New Canaan High School to help prepare students for the SAT would be by offering prep classes. This program could consist of five to 10 hyper-focused study courses to help prepare students. This would work as, according to Akil Bello, an education advocate, the SAT “measures a relatively narrow set of skills. You can identify what skills are necessary and hyperfocus on preparing students for these skills.” The prep classes could either be combined English and math or separate, and offer instructional time along with practice resources. 

While it is easy to assume that all students in a town like New Canaan could afford private tutoring, in my discussions with my peers, this is not the case. Some families either don’t have the financial means to pay for expensive tutoring which can easily be $300 an hour, or test prep classes, which can cost well over $1,500 or are unaware of the importance of such resources. For this reason, offering free SAT prep classes levels the playing field for all students at NCHS and enhances our school system as a whole.

Some may believe that online or other self-study methods could be an option.  However, a structured, in-person class where students have the opportunity to ask questions and interact with instructors is likely far superior. This is why New Canaan has in-person school as opposed to a series of pre-recorded online classes. In addition, underperforming students who are most likely to benefit from in-person classes are also likely those who are least likely to take it upon themselves to self-study.

How much would this cost?

A typical SAT tutor costs approximately $200 to $300 per hour. Assuming 50% of NCHS juniors, or approximately 160 students, take 10 hours of classes and 20 students per class, the annual cost to New Canaan would be $16,000 to $24,000.  This would represent approximately 0.026% (little more than two-tenths of 1%) of the 2025 town budget for education.

I would like to call on the administration and BOE to do the right thing for students and help us succeed after high school by using higher SAT scores to open the doors to increased opportunities for better colleges, jobs, and futures. Given the minimal cost, this could be done immediately to help students and improve New Canaan’s SAT scores. Please, all parents and students contact members of the BOE and express your support for this initiative. It shouldn’t have to wait for the next budgeting cycle.

For a small cost and easy-to-implement solution, we can raise the floor for all students, raise the ceiling for many and significantly enhance the reputation of New Canaan High School for the benefit of all.

8 thoughts on “Op-Ed: New Canaan Needs to Better Prepare Students for SAT

  1. As standardized testing (ACT/SAT) returns as a qualifier for college admissions, there has to be a way for all students to prepare. Leo Mikkola-Patel, a student at NCHS, makes a convincing case for introducing a low-cost model accessible to all aspiring students.

  2. Great and timely piece. Looks like the BOE meeting tonight is canceled but go to the next one and present your case – hopefully you get some constructive feedback. Despite what people may have claimed over the last years the SAT is not going away.

  3. I tutored for the SAT for over 20 years while teaching at NCHS and still do so via Zoom from Savannah, Ga. I typically charge $150 an hour but have tutored for less, depending on the circumstances of the family. There is no reason it should cost between $200 and $300 an hour.

  4. Good SAT scores require more than substantive knowledge. The student has to understand how educators construct multiple-choice tests. I doubt that that is explicitly taught in NCHS classes. Understanding test-construction techniques can yield off-the-scale SAT test results. It will carry over to occupational tests such as the multi-state bar exam, where the underlying substantive law taught in law schools varies from state-to-state.

  5. Excellent points – thank you for sharing your thoughts. While I agree that standardized testing as part of the admissions process will most likely stick around for the time being, I think we’ve started to see a shift away from them being given as much weight as they did pre-COVID. Many more schools than ever before have gone test optional. In my opinion, it’s become more clear that a score on a standardized test (whether high or low) is not a true predictor of future success. I encourage students to take a holistic approach to preparing their candidacy with a specific focus on doing the best they can in classes where they are challenged throughout their four years of high school. Kids attending NCHS already have a slight benefit because universities are familiar with the rigor of the curriculum and breadth of classes offered including a large number of AP classes (you may be familiar with the one pager the college advising office sends to all schools that outlines classes offered, # of kids in the district, demographics, etc.). The other important piece of this is extracurricular involvement throughout the four years of HS whether it’s community or faith based, sport related, etc. Sharing commitment to a passion speaks volumes. Pulling everything together with strong essays completes the picture. Instead of funneling money into tutors or classes, kids can use the multitude of free resources available online including Khan Academy. I also strongly recommend students take the ACT. The format and content of the SAT doesn’t suit everyone. My son’s SAT score was fine. He decided to take the ACT on a whim (no practice or prep) and ended up with a score that far surpassed his performance on the SAT.

  6. Good morning,

    Since 2015, understanding that a free option for SAT was needed, the College Board has paired with Khan Academy to offer solid test prep at NO COST to the student. Khan Academy is a tool students are well familiar with across the subject matter board and SAT prep is no different. Although not in-person, students are offered this option when they receive their PSAT scores back as sophomores and juniors and can sign up for it at any time. Many NCHS use this free option as their sole SAT prep or they pair it with another means of preparation and appreciate that it is online because of their very busy schedules with sports, theater, clubs and jobs. This is on top of the good work our teachers do daily in the classroom which sets the foundation for standardized tests. New Canaan has been one of the top 5 districts in Connecticut for SAT scores in the last 5 years and was ranked #4 last year in the article Leo cited with 74.7 % (https://www.ctinsider.com/projects/2023/ct-sat-scores-data/ ).

    Also, although the return of submitting standardized tests at a few schools has made the front page of newspapers, the great majority of colleges remain test optional. One has only to peruse the list at https://fairtest.org/ to see that it is indeed a very small cohort of schools requiring scores.

    Like most things in life, whether it is free or costs a pretty penny, in-person or online, test prep is most successful when students commit the time and energy to consistent practice and diligence.

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