SAT testing will be free for all juniors and seniors at public and charter high schools in Washington, D.C., this year, Mayor Vincent Gray recently announced.

The new program, which will affect more than 7,000 students this year, is funded through the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in partnership with local education agencies and the College Board’s SAT School Day initiative, which allows students in participating areas to take the test in a familiar environment and provides SAT preparatory materials for one year prior to the exam.

“I’m so pleased that we are able to make this crucial college-entrance exam more accessible to all our students, making it easier for them to gain admission to institutions of higher education across the country,” Gray said in a press release.

The test, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is traditionally offered only one Saturday morning each month during the school year at select testing centers. The registration fee is $51, although students who are unable to pay can apply for a fee waiver. It is unclear how many D.C. students would have needed to apply for a fee waiver without this new program, but D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that cost was often an issue for students.

“The SAT is the gateway to college for many students, but too often the cost is a tremendous barrier,” Henderson said in a press release. “Making the SAT more accessible is great news for our students and their future success.”

Junior and senior students in the District will receive vouchers from registration coordinators at their school, which they will then use to register for the exam online. Vouchers for the ACT are also available, but only for eligible low-income students. All other exams must be paid for at students’ own expense.

Ricki Eshman (COL ’14), the president of Georgetown Strive for College, an organization that connects low-income high school students with Georgetown student mentors to work on-on-one through the college application and financial aid processes, said that the announcement was a step in the right direction.

“Waiving the fee is leveling the playing field for the students we work with by allowing them full access to tests that can bring them one step closer to a brighter future through higher education,” Eshmansaid.

Nevertheless, Eshman stressed that the test fee was just one aspect of eliminating education inequality.

“One of the greatest limitations for many students is the financial burden of higher education,”Eshman said. “While this program is a step closer to reducing part of that burden, there is still a lot of work to be done to lower tuition costs and make college fully accessible to people from all backgrounds.”

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