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Demystifying the SSAT: A Q&A with Heather Hoerle

Meet Heather Hoerle, Executive Director of the Secondary School Admission Test Board (SSATB). Heather began her career working in the admission offices of the George and Westtown schools in Pennsylvania. She then worked at The Association of Boarding Schools and the National Association of Independent Schools for more than 20 years.

The Bertram Group is pleased to offer a two-part guest interview with Heather. In this issue we focus on questions about the SSAT.

Q: Many parents are familiar with the SSAT. What should they know about the organization behind that assessment tool?

A: The SSATB is a nonprofit whose board of directors is comprised of educational leaders from the world of independent schools. We focus on improving the admission process for the benefit of students, families, and schools. When I joined SSATB in 2011, for example, we heard from admission officers that they were fielding lots of questions about the SSAT, so we are creating even more opportunities to communicate directly with parents. We want to make our work as transparent as possible so families feel comfortable going through this process.

Q: Where can families find information about the SSAT?

A: Last August we launched a new version of our website at ssat.org and every year we publish The Official Guide to the SSAT specifically to answer questions about how the test is designed and what it measures. In October we began offering webinars introducing families to the SSAT and discussing score reports. We've had more than 35,000 participants and plan to have more webinars on new subjects in the future.

Q: How should students prepare for the SSAT?

A: Families should know that the SSATB does not endorse specific private tutors. Some companies promote themselves as being able to accurately predict what a student will score on the SSAT. Given test design and scoring, this is simply not possible. We recommend that students prepare by familiarizing themselves with the timing and format of the test, which can build confidence on test day, and by focusing on the content and skills students most need to improve. The Official Guide to the SSAT, which is written by our test development team, includes sample questions and two full-length practice tests.

Q: How do families know if a student's SSAT score is high enough?

A: Remember that an SSAT score is just one part of a student's application, and different schools use it differently. For college admissions, a variety of tools exist to help families see how a student's test scores and grades match the profile of others accepted to a school. Such data about applicant test scores are not published by most secondary schools. Therefore, educational consultants are invaluable information centers to help families set appropriate expectations and goals. Because educational consultants know schools so well—and not just relating to test scores—they have expertise on how students and schools might be compatible.

Q: What is coming next from the SSATB?

A: We expect to launch an online practice test. This test will provide a real SSAT score and will also provide students with information about why an answer choice was correct. Families can use this data to plan the summer studying that students often do to prepare for taking the SSAT in the fall. Late in the spring, SSAT also will distribute a survey to gain a better understanding of the test, application, and admission process from the family perspective. The results of this are sure to enlighten many admission professionals and educational consultants as to the strengths and challenges of entering the independent school community.

Look for the second installment of this interview in our next issue, where Heather Hoerle will discuss how educational trends are influencing predictors of student success.