COSTA MESA — Students at Costa Mesa Middle and High School on Wednesday will take what has traditionally been an optional test: the PSAT.
The school is requiring its eighth- and 10th-grade students to take the PSAT as part of its efforts to give kids a head start on the examination, which serves as practice for the SAT — the key test used for college admissions. The top 120 performing juniors are also mandated to take the test.
The PSAT, created by the New York-based College Board, measures critical thinking, math and writing.
"I think that if we embed in the culture that it's not optional to take an examination that is an indicator of college-readiness, we have an expectation that they will go to college," said Costa Mesa High School Principal Phil D'Agostino.
"We want them taking these high-stakes exams. We want them challenging themselves at the highest levels of their abilities. We want them looking toward college."
Traditionally, only a minority of Mesa students took the PSAT, said Erik Pannizzo, a campus counselor.
Students who take the practice test score on average 120 points higher on the SAT, Pannizzo said.
"If kids can just get an awareness of what's going to be on the test, and then know what to study for when it really counts, it's going to be huge for them," he said.
The PSAT is a warm up for the SAT, a potentially life-changing exam.
"The one test that makes the biggest difference in a kid's life in going to college is the SAT," said Charles Hinman, N-MUSD's assistant superintendent of secondary education.
Helping students financially be able to take the PSAT is the Costa Mesa High School Foundation, which gave more than $11,000 to cover the per-test fees and renting tables and chairs, D'Agostino said.
D'Agostino started the program while principal at Estancia High School.
Estancia continues to test all of its sophomores, who are also taking the exam Wednesday along with the high-achieving eighth-grade students from TeWinkle Middle School, said Estancia's principal, Kirk Bauermeister.
In his second year at Estancia, Bauermeister said taking the PSAT increases SAT participation, helps students do better on the SAT and is a good indicator of students who should be in honors or Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
PSAT results are also one of the best ways to build an AP program, Hinman said.
"It's going to allow us to help build a program here at Costa Mesa that will be more in line with the rigorous expectations that the students have for themselves based on their PSAT scores," he said.
PSAT scores are also used to decide which students are eligible for National Merit Scholarships.
"The sooner you can be on the radar for scholarships, the better," said Newport-Mesa school board Trustee Katrina Foley, whose eighth-grade son is taking the test.
She said it his her hope that the test helps identify students with AP potential, as well as those falling through the cracks and in need of additional help.
Newport Harbor High doesn't currently require its students to take the PSAT, but Corona del Mar High has its 11th-graders take the test.
FOR THE RECORD:
[This corrects an earlier version that said Corona del Mar High 10th-graders take the test.]
Harbor's principal, Michael Vossen, said his school is looking into having the PSAT mandatory.
Hinman said the two Newport Beach schools have a culture where it is expected to take advanced classes and go to college, but he anticipates those expectations to eventually be in place at Mesa and Estancia.
"I think what Kirk [Bauermeister] and Phil [D'Agostino] are doing is changing culture," he said.