AUGUSTA — High schools are offering breakfast, rides to school and the chance to stay home on Monday — whatever it takes to get juniors to school for three hours and 45 minutes of testing today for the SAT.

“Every school has their own little culture around the day,” said Dan Hupp, the Maine High School Assessment coordinator at the Maine Department of Education.

Since 2006, Maine has required high school juniors to take the SAT to fulfill requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Students can take the test as many times as they want, but the one given the first Saturday in May of a student’s junior year is critically important for schools.

A student who misses today’s test can make it up on the first Saturday in June, and students who cannot take tests on a Saturday can request to take the SAT on another day for Maine purposes only — college admission offices will not accept the scores.

Hupp estimated that more than 90 percent of juniors sit for the May SAT each year.

Schools must have 95 percent of their juniors take the SAT by the end of the year, or they fail to meet benchmarks set by No Child Left Behind. If a school misses targets in consecutive years, certain improvement steps are mandated.

Maine is the only state that requires the SAT and has the nation’s highest participation rate — 96 percent last year.

Fewer than 10 high schools missed the 95 percent benchmark for participation in 2011, Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said.

The state pays every junior’s $49 SAT fee. It also reimburses school districts for transportation costs on the day of the test and allows school districts to count it as a legal attendance day, giving juniors another day off — frequently the following Monday.

About 60 percent of schools count test day for attendance, Hupp said.

Six states require all students to take another college admissions test, the ACT, and Louisiana will require it starting next year. All the ACT-mandatory states are in the West, Midwest and Southeast.

Maine has the country’s lowest ACT participation rate, at 9 percent.

When deciding between the two tests as a replacement for the high school Maine Education Assessment, state officials chose partly on the basis of familiarity, Hupp said. About two-thirds of Maine students already were taking the SAT.

Paying SAT fees, transportation reimbursements and other associated expenses costs about the same as developing the Maine Education Assessment each year, Hupp said.

Maine adopted the SAT to encourage students to think about college and to motivate students by giving them a test that has an impact on their prospects, Hupp said.

“The high school students in lots of cases weren’t giving it their best effort,” Hupp said. “There was actually no incentive for them. It couldn’t be used as grades; colleges wouldn’t look at it.”

Although SAT scores affect college admissions, performance on the Maine High School Assessment — which includes the SAT tests of math, reading and writing as well as a separate science test — does not affect graduation decisions. That sets Maine apart from some other states, such as Massachusetts, that require students to pass a standardized test to earn a diploma.

High school guidance counselors said the use of the SAT has motivated students.

At Monmouth Academy, the portion of students not taking the SAT has dropped from 25 or 30 percent to virtually zero, counselor Dennis Grover said. School staff emphasize the importance of the test for students’ lives.

“We tell them that history has shown us that some of our students who may not consider themselves as college material may do better than they expected, and it creates a spark for those students as well,” Grover said.

Grover said school staff also talk about the importance of the test for the school.

“We do appeal to the students’ pride of school as well in terms of doing their best,” Grover said. “We’re honest with them and let them know that not only are they scored on the test, but the school is as well. I think they understand that.”

To address concerns about inequality, Maine makes some SAT preparation materials available for free. All students take the Preliminary SAT in 10th grade, which reveals a student’s areas for improvement.

Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale also requires juniors to take the PSAT, which is administered in October. Results come back in early winter, giving students additional targeted preparation time.

Hall-Dale had 100 percent SAT participation last year.

“The thing that we’ve been pretty successful with is making sure that SATs for juniors are really just part of the culture and the general expectations for kids at school,” guidance director Greg Henderson said. “They all know they’re going to take the PSAT in the fall and SAT in the spring.”

Hall-Dale brings in a caterer to prepare a hot breakfast for students. And with a relatively small student body, Henderson said, it’s fairly easy to coordinate among friends and neighbors to make sure everyone has a ride to school.

Other events can compete for students’ time and serve as an obstacle to attendance. Sometimes athletic events get rained out and have to be rescheduled the day of the SAT, usually in late afternoon, Grover said.

And once, a few years ago, Monmouth Academy’s prom was that evening.

Because prom preparations can start hours in advance, the school has made sure to avoid that conflict since then.

“No slam on girls, of course, but our biggest concern was hair appointments,” Grover said. “Even though the bodies were here, I think one foot was out the door getting ready for the prom.”

Schools will have to adapt to a new testing regimen soon. Maine has joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of states that will change tests in the 2014-15 school year.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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