ST. PETERSBURG — Superintendent Mike Grego wants Pinellas County's top seventh-graders to take the SAT.
If that seems a little early for a college entrance exam, well, it is and it isn't, he said.
Students who excel could be targeted for more rigorous classes. But even those students who tank on the standardized test would be encouraged to participate in a college-oriented summer camp. All of the students would benefit from learning about college early, he said.
"This is about building the dreams of seventh-graders," Grego said.
This year, the Pinellas County Schools Talent Identification Program will be open to the top 10 percent of seventh-graders at each middle school. Students who decide to participate will be asked to take the SAT on Jan. 26.
Students will be identified as the top 10 percent based on their sixth-grade reading and math FCAT scores, said Melanie Marquez, a district spokeswoman.
The program isn't free. Students have to pay the $50 exam fee charged by the College Board, which administers the test. Schools will pay fees for students who qualify for subsidized lunches, Grego said. The money will likely come out of federal dollars for low-income students.
The idea of seventh-graders taking the SAT isn't a new one. Duke University began its well-known Duke Talent Identification Program, or Duke TIP, more than 30 years ago. The program is intended to identify top-performing students who then might be asked to participate in rigorous summer camps based on their SAT performances. Some other top universities, such as Northwestern University, have similar programs.
"We're trying to provide a similar experience for our students locally," Grego said.
Students who qualify for the Duke program or any other will be encouraged to participate in those, he said.
One key difference between the university-run programs and the Pinellas Talent Identification Program is that SAT scores don't matter in the local program. The goal is to get students thinking about college and expose them to a college entrance exam, Grego said. Test performance is "just one measure" of how students are doing.
"This isn't about the SAT," he said. "It's about developing a child."
Grego also started a talent-identification program when he was superintendent of Osceola County Schools. It drew 95 students in its first year and grew to nearly 600 students by its third year, he said. Summer camp activities were arranged through partnerships with the University of Central Florida, Florida Institute of Technology and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
He said he's hoping to start similar partnerships here.
Students will take the test at one of three middle schools —Oak Grove Middle in Clearwater, John Hopkins Middle in St. Petersburg and Safety Harbor Middle — rather than at sites with high school students.
Some details still are being worked out, such as what will be included in the summer camp and how much the program will cost the school district. Some of that depends on how many students enroll, Grego said.
But, he said it "won't break the bank."
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.