Roughly 3,500 high school juniors in the Douglas County School District missed out on their chance to take a college readiness exam that can significantly affect students' odds at scholarships.
A scheduling conflict and an unexpected snow day in mid-October led to the situation, and district officials are exploring how to prevent it from happening again. One possibility: rescheduling fall break in 2020.
The district's fall break in October 2019 coincided with the few dates available to take the PSAT. The test, part of the SAT suite, can determine if students are admitted to a school's AP classes, according to its website. Students must also take the test to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Students were on fall break last year over two of the three dates available to take the PSAT. That left only the alternative test day, Oct. 30, 2019, for them to take the test. The district had to cancel the test altogether because of snow. District leaders said the college board did not allow them to reschedule, partially because of test security.
“Looking ahead to next year, we have the same situation,” said Matt Reynolds, chief assessment and data officer.
Staff recommended the board move fall break 2020, now scheduled for Oct. 12-16, to one week later. PSAT test dates are Oct. 14, Oct. 17 and an alternate day on Oct. 28. The Oct. 17 test is a Saturday and technically part of fall break, Reynolds said.
At the Feb. 4 school board meeting, Emma Peters, a junior at Castle View High School, told directors she planned to take the test in October to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. She'd prepped for two years and doesn't want future juniors to miss out like she did.
Highlands Ranch High School Principal Chris Page read a letter from a teacher in support of the calendar change, adding that he believed it was important to learn from the error.
“When we see a mistake happen, if we don't learn from that mistake, we are definitely doomed to repeat it,” he said.
School board directors noted some families and staff have already booked trips for the week now planned as fall break. Some schools have class field trips or programs scheduled to travel during the week staff are proposing directors make the new fall break.
That left several directors questioning how many families would be burdened by changing the calendar. Although the chance of another weather event foiling the test date this year is low, directors said, students have much to lose if they cannot take the test. Page said the PSAT brings in about $2.5 million worth of scholarships for district students.
School board Director Kevin Leung asked why the district's calendar committee didn't take the PSAT dates into closer consideration when drafting calendars for approval.
“The PSAT date is not unknown at that time,” he said.
The calendars were proposed in May 2018 by a calendar committee and approved by the board for the next two years. The committee of school leaders, teachers, classified staff and parents developed three calendar options for board consideration.
Reynolds said the committee considers numerous issues when drafting calendars, including alignment with neighboring districts.
“Up until this year, we had never experienced a weather event that would lead us to believe that having that alternate day would be impacted,” Reynolds said. “It had never occurred before.”
Kim Herman, a member of the calendar committee, cautioned the board against amending this year's calendar. She worried about the impact to classrooms if families and staff with trips planned continue with their travels even if the break is rescheduled.
She does recognize the risk for students who could lose out on taking the test in the event of weather problems, she said.
Some directors want to explore administering the test on Oct. 17, even though it's on fall break. Other said they did not have enough information to decide at their Feb. 4 board meeting.
Leung and Krista Holtzmann motioned to table the discussion until the board's next meeting and directed staff to gather more community input and estimate the cost and feasibility of administering the test on Oct. 17.
Directors in a 5-2 vote approved the motion. Directors Anthony Graziano and Christina Ciancio-Schor dissented. Ciancio-Schor said she felt they had enough information, and Graziano sided with prioritizing students who need to take the PSAT.
School board President David Ray said the board needs to make a decision soon. The board urged community members to contact the district with input.
“The sooner families can know about this, the better,” Ray said. “I feel like we really haven't been given a lot of opportunity for our community to react.”
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