by Nicholas Kent, (formerly) High School Principal, Concordia International School, Shanghai (China) (currently Deputy Head of School,Jakarta International School, Indonesia); Jay Lasley, Director of Admissions, Norfolk Academy (VA); Hilal Al-Mamari, The Takatuf Scholars Programme (Oman)
The SSAT Benchmark test has been used for years by schools who are new to the SSAT, providing them with a reliable way to compare the scores of applicants with actual SSAT scores for their own currently enrolled students. Additionally, the benchmark test can be used by scholarship and enrichment programs as well as community-based organizations to assess the ability of potential program participants and familiarize students who do not typically take standardized tests with their format. The benchmark test is a reduced-price exam and is a “live” form of the SSAT. We spoke with three unique recent users of the SSAT benchmark test about their experiences.
Please provide some background about your benchmark testing.
NK: When we decided to use the SSAT as our admission assessment tool, it became paramount to have a greater understanding of "who was in the building." We benchmarked all of our students in grades 7 through 12 about seven years ago, and it has given us volumes of data.
JL: At Norfolk Academy, sixth grade is one of our main entry points. We benchmark our current fifth grade class (approximately 80 students) each January. The students are administered the test in the classrooms by their classroom teachers.
HA: The benchmark test was administered during our Summer Residential Programme (SRP), a coeducational three-week "learning boot camp" held in English during the summer. Sixty Omani students attend, most from the public education system. We have administered the SSAT to our students for the past three years.
What was the problem you wanted to solve using SSAT benchmark testing?
NK: Benchmark testing allowed us to know the range of kids we already had in the building and gave us a better idea of students that we are capable of serving. This informed us in a way that made our admission gateway even more open--a surprise to those who were worried that an admission assessment would limit admission.
JL: While there was not one specific problem we were hoping to solve, the benchmarking data is critical to our sixth grade admission committee's work each winter. The applicant pool to our sixth grade is quite diverse, so the ability to put the performance of applicants in context with the class to which they are applying provides very meaningful insight. I also find it extremely helpful in conversations with parents whose children were not admitted. The more data I am able to provide that can reflect and confirm our admission decisions, the better parents are able to understand the rationale for their child not being admitted.
HA: We didn't have a problem--more a challenge. Most of our scholars haven't taken a standardized test before. It is essential to provide the students with exposure to a standardized test and at the same time to get an idea of their ability and suitability for both the program and for independent schools.
Was the benchmark process easy to follow and use?
NK: Benchmarking 600 kids was daunting, but the level of service and assistance I received from The Enrollment Management Association was extraordinary. The customer service was very helpful. The most difficult part of the process was filling out the spreadsheet and that was simply labor intensive.
JL: The process and data are very easy to interpret. Our committee finds it helpful to be able to see these data in the variety of contexts The Enrollment Management Association provides, especially the score means and ranges.
HA: Yes. It is the same basic process for the SSAT, which is quite easy to follow. The whole administration process is laid out in the booklet and the administrator just needs to follow the drill.
How was the benchmark process received by families and students?
NK: Families were a little skeptical at first about the school's intention. In response, I decided to ensure that I was doing quite a bit of parent education and frontloading why we were making this change to the admission procedure. Once I was in front of parents and explained the intention, all the static disappeared.
JL: Our current families have appreciated the feedback from their child's SSAT, and also have been happy that the benchmarking is an opportunity for them to assist with our admission work.
HA: The students seemed to have liked getting the exposure. (Anecdote from Takatuf Scholars' Programme Director, Professor Katy Bindon: "It is wonderful to see students walking out after completing the benchmark test with great smiles on their faces, saying 'Now I know what this is all about'!")
Ultimately, did benchmark testing solve your problem?
NK: Benchmarking absolutely solved our problem. It allowed us great insight into who we had admitted--and I still add to that data every year when we are looking at admission candidates. I would ideally like to be able to provide an official score to those kids and their parents as a reward for testing.
JL: We are very pleased with the opportunity to benchmark our fifth graders. The information gained has made the work of our sixth grade admission committee very efficient and accurate, and I feel that with the addition of the benchmarking data, our committee feels even more confident in the decision-making process.
HA: Generally, yes. The students now know what to expect and how to manage their time. For international students who have had no exposure to or previous preparation for these kinds of tests, this experience is very important.
Would you recommend benchmark testing to schools/organizations?
NK: I can't imagine any reason (beyond time) that a school would not benchmark. The data is invaluable.