The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition that recognizes distinguished achievement among high school students and provides a one-time $2,500 cash award. Students must take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) to enter the competition. Winners must have qualifying test scores, strong overall academic performance, extracurricular participation, a written recommendation from their high school, and a strong essay.
Greenwich Academy is an example of a school that produces National Merit Scholarship winners. It innovates excellence among its student population through its Signature Programs, a range of educational opportunities that encourage excellence in academics, the arts, science, and leadership. Programs like this are possible only with the support of volunteer leaders from the financial community like J. Timothy Morris, founder of Proprium Capital Partners, and Rene M. Kern, managing director of General Atlantic.
Contrasting Greenwich Academy’s example of academic achievement and extracurricular success is a disturbing downward trend in SAT scores. A growing number of students who complete high school aren’t ready for training programs that would lead to a career or for the stringent content encountered in college classes.
The College Board released figures earlier this month that showed a continued decline in achievement. In 2015 high school graduates had an average SAT score of 1490, a decline from the previous year’s average score of 1497.
A new SAT will be used in March of next year and will be designed to include what students need to know in college and what they are currently studying in high school. The new tests will have fewer unusual vocabulary words, an optional essay, and a return to a 1600-point scale. In partnership with the Khan Academy, the College Board will also be offering free online practice tests.
The PSAT/NMSQT was taken by 3.8 million students last year, up from 3.7 million in the previous year. Only 48 percent of test takers in the eleventh grade scored well enough to be considered college or career ready—another decline from the previous year.
The numbers don’t lie. More schools need to integrate courses and develop resources that prepare their students to better cope with the rigors of placement tests, college work, and career education. Perhaps they will also turn to enclaves of excellence like Greenwich Academy to help them improve their student preparation and test scores.