National Merit Semifinalists from Carroll Senior High School were recognized at the Oct. 2 Carroll school board meeting. Carroll school district
National Merit Semifinalists from Carroll Senior High School were recognized at the Oct. 2 Carroll school board meeting. Carroll school district

Northeast Tarrant

Three schools produce half of Tarrant’s National Merit Semifinalists

By Sandra Engelland

sengelland@star-telegram.com

October 06, 2017 11:15 AM

NORTHEAST TARRANT

Many students (and their parents) seek it, and schools and districts boast about their numbers who achieve it—that’s becoming a National Merit Semifinalist.

This year’s crop of Semifinalists — now seniors — took the test last fall and were recently notified they had reached that top status. A National Merit Semifinalist achieves in the top 1 percent in scores on the PSAT.

Three area high schools produced almost half of the Semifinalists in Tarrant County, 54 of 111.

Carroll Senior High School (22 Semifinalists), Colleyville Heritage High School (20) and Grapevine High School (12), top this year’s list among Tarrant County schools. Carroll’s number tied for the district’s record. Grapevine-Colleyville schools had their highest number ever.

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How do they manage to do that? Not by accident.

According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, 16,000 of the 1.6 million juniors who take the PSAT become National Merit Semifinalists. About 15,000 will become finalists after an application process and will be eligible for 7,500 scholarships from colleges, corporations and the NMSC.

Carroll district educators help students prepare for the PSAT and the SAT college entrance exam, both distributed by College Board, by incorporating related concepts and questions within the curriculum, said Gina Peddy, executive director of curriculum and instruction.

“Our students are very familiar with the format of the test,” Peddy said. “One of our primary goals is to make sure our students have higher level thinking questions on all our tests.”

That training helps them figure out answers, even on questions they may not know.

“It helps them decode the questions,” she said.

In addition to embedding questions in the curriculum, Carroll district officials offer weeklong programs, one each month of the summer, for students to learn concepts and strategies to succeed on the high-stakes tests. A few hundred students participate in those programs each summer, which include a fee for the cost of books and resource materials.

Peddy said educators are considering a class with online and in-person instruction they could offer during the school day to assist those who may be too busy to attend a summer session.

Students also are encouraged to sign up for College Board’s SAT question of the day, which includes explanations behind “best answer questions” that have more than one correct solution.

Peddy said, “It’s good practice for both the PSAT and the SAT.”

Shannon Tovar, director of accountability and continuous improvement for Grapevine-Colleyville schools, said district educators have expanded participation in practice runs on the PSAT to eighth-, ninth- and tenth-grade students.

They also offer college entrance exam prep training during the regular school day and a special course for students who are aiming for National Merit recognition, Tovar said.

The biggest reason parents are excited about their kids becoming National Merit Semifinalists?

“There is a lot of money tied to this test, depending on where you want to go to college,” Carroll’s Peddy said.

Scholarship awards at some schools can be full rides for National Merit Scholars. Many universities offer substantial scholarships to National Merit Scholars and to students with slightly lower scores who are ranked “Commended.”

On Oct. 11, high school juniors around the U.S. will take the PSAT to qualify for next year’s scholarship competition.

Sandra J. Engelland: 817-390-7323, @SandraEngelland