LEWISTON – Whether lured by dreams of college, incentives like free pizza and iPod shuffles or the need to meet graduation requirements, hundreds of high school students in central and western Maine rolled out of bed early Saturday to take the SATs.
Tiffani Brown, 16, said she would have taken the four-hour exam regardless of the perks at Lewiston High School, which included free breakfast, free pizza for lunch and a raffle for iPods, movie tickets and Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificates.
“College is really important to me and my family,” she said, munching on after-exam pizza in the school cafeteria. She paused and added that the food was a nice bonus. “I feel bad for the schools that didn’t get anything.”
Her friend Jessica Vieira, 16, agreed.
“My friends are so jealous,” she said, speaking of students she knows in Massachusetts. They received no test-taking incentives and also paid the standard $41.50 to take the SAT – a fee covered by the state in Maine.
Maine is the first state to require students to take the SAT. It’s also the first state to pay for the exam. Elsewhere, taking the test is a voluntary part of the college application process.
In 2005, the state decided to replace its high school achievement test with the SAT in hopes of making the testing more meaningful and to encourage more students to consider college.
The change requires at least 95 percent of high school juniors to take the test. Schools unable to meet the quota face the risk of being labeled “failing” schools and losing federal funding. This year, many schools rushed to increase SAT participation. In previous years, about 70 percent of the state’s juniors have taken the test.
Lewiston High School went for the glitz of food and gadgets, but at Edward Little High School in Auburn, administrators simply made the exam a graduation requirement.
Turnout at the two schools was almost identical Saturday.
“We had 278 kids registered to take it, and 262 showed up. That’s 94 percent,” Edward Little Principal Jim Miller said enthusiastically. The next round of SAT testing is May 6. “We have 16 kids we have to check.”
Lewiston High School science teacher and test administrator Amy Kaczowka said 275 students, including juniors from Auburn’s private St. Dominic Regional High School, showed.
“We actually had 95 percent,” she said, clearly relieved. “A lot of schools were saying, We hope for 65 percent.'”
Back in the Lewiston High School cafeteria, Kimberly Richardson, 16, first maintained she wouldn’t have taken the test without enticement.
“On a Saturday, c’mon,” she moaned, rolling her eyes. “They could have chosen another day.”
Later, however, she admitted she is college-bound and would have taken the test anyway.
Larry Bryant, 17, fully intended to take the SAT, but he might not have gotten up so early if it weren’t for the food.
“He was up at 4:55,” pointed out a friend, Renaud Nadeau, 17.
Bryant had volunteered to help serve during the morning, although it’s hard to say the move was entirely altruistic. He was first in line for breakfast (“I had at least three muffins”) and again for lunch, too.
As for the test, “I was nervous,” he said. “I think the math part – some of it I didn’t know – but most of it was easy.”
Nadeau had the opposite view. “The math was pretty easy,” he said politely, after finishing a bite of pizza.