CLAREMONT — Staffers at a Bronx high school dropped the ball on applications for student waivers for the SAT registration fee, sticking its kids with the last-minute bill — and then only refunded the cost for a handful of students who complained, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The Bronx High School for Medical Science quietly doled out $51 to cover the registration fee to a few families who had to pay out of pocket for the school's mistake, according to students and their parents. Other students opted to take the test in October, hoping they'd be eligible for a free test by then, but making for a tight turnaround with college applications.
“The school is not helping its students progress,” said Marcela Pinos, a rising senior. Instead, “it’s holding them back.”
The SAT fee waiver covers the $51 cost of registration, allows students to send their scores to four additional colleges at no cost (a $45 value) and includes four fee-waiver requests for college application charges, which range from about $40 to $80 each.
To be eligible for the waivers, students' families must meet certain low-income benchmarks, such as enrollment in the federal free-and-reduced-price lunch program.
In the 2010-11 school year, 83 percent of Medical Science students qualified for that lunch-subsidy program.
Because students must get the waivers through their school counselors, the counselor at Medical Science who handles the waivers instructed juniors this spring to wait to register for the SATs as a group at school, according to several students. But before she could help them apply, she had to go on medical leave.
The counselors who filled in for her did not resume the SAT-application process until May, students said, during the late registration period. This caused a problem: the SAT rules clearly state that fee waivers cannot be used during this period.
So the counselors made a sudden announcement — students had to bring in $51 the next day to register for the test.
“Everybody was surprised and shocked,” said student Adedoyin Ogunjobi. “We all assumed we had nothing to worry about but to take the test.”
Calls to the school last week were not answered. Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia said Monday, "We are looking into the matter."
Ogunjobi, Pinos and another student went to the main office to complain. There, administrators quietly agreed to cover the cost of their SAT registration — but no one else’s, the students said.
“There’s no excuse for that,” said Mariela Torres, Pinos’ mother.
Meanwhile, some upset students decided not to apply for the June test, hoping instead to get a fee waiver for the next test date. (Some students said that a counselor assured them that there would be a summer test date; in fact, the next test is Oct. 5.)
One student, Eddie Duarte, registered for the test, but made a minor error, forgetting to mark his gender on the form. Because the school had waited until the end of the registration period, by the time Duarte reapplied, the nearest available test site was in Connecticut — far enough that he would have had to spend the night in a hotel.
Though he had already paid the nonrefundable fee, Duarte decided to skip the test.
Now he and others will take the SATs for the first time in October, despite widespread agreement among experts (and even stated on the SAT website) that students should first take the test in the spring of their junior year.
“I’ll have to take the test and sign up for college at the same time,” Duarte said.
Medical Science is the same school that did not provide math or English classes to certain students last fall. After a DNAinfo New York report about the situation, the school offered them the courses.
Some students and adults said the SAT flub casts further doubt on whether the school is properly preparing students to apply for and succeed in college.
Sharon Washington, an instructor at Hostos Community College who founded a free college-preparation program for Bronx high school students last year, said that students from Medical Science arrived with “an immense gap in their knowledge” about the application process.
Many of these students are the first in their family to apply for college and so need all the help they can get, Washington added.
“And so to have their school not only not support them, but actually stand in as an obstacle,” she said, “is just another blow to these students.”