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DeLand junior aces SAT on first try

Susan Notes:

This remarkable junior's father identifies himself as "the anti-standardized test guy." David Finkle draws a cartoon strip for the Datona News-Journal. The central character is a schoolteacher who often voices frustration with the pressures and absurdities of high-stakes testing. A number of them can be found on this site.

Christopher did no test prep, not even the sample questions: "I never did the SAT vocabulary cards," he said. "I just got a big vocabulary by reading a lot."

By Mark Lane

DELAND -- Christopher D. Finkle, 16, a junior at DeLand High School, did one thing to prepare for the Scholastic Aptitude Test last month. He looked up the test on Wikipedia to see how the writing section of the standardized college admission test is graded. (Hint: Write long and use big words.)

Even the SAT-question-a-day calendar a relative gave him for Christmas remained in its shrink-wrap. "I did no prep," he says.

Nineteen days after taking the test, he borrowed a friend's iPhone during lunch in the school band locker room to look up the newly posted test results.

Working the tiny touch screen and with its battery running out, he signed on the SAT website ... 12 percent power, 10 percent power, 8 percent power ... with 3 percent to spare, he finally saw the tiny numbers - 800, 800, 800. He had a perfect score.

That's 800 in the reading section, 800 in math, 800 in writing, for a total of 2,400 points.

How rare is that?

The last perfect score reported from Volusia County was Crystal Senko, a 16-year-old from Port Orange in 2004. Flagler student Christopher Monsour achieved a perfect score in 1997.

"Achieving the highest possible score on the SAT is a rare accomplishment," said College Board spokeswoman Katherine Levin. The College Board administers the test.

"Students from the class of 2011 who scored a 2400 on the SAT represented 0.024 percent of the total group of test takers in that cohort," she said. The year before, it was 0.023 percent.

Put another way, only nine high school seniors in Florida got perfect scores last year out of all 114,769 students who took the test, according to the College Board. In the entire country, only 384 seniors received perfect scores out of 1,647,123 students.

The College Board only releases aggregate score data for seniors. This is to take into account the fact students often take the test several times.

Not Finkle, though. This was his first try.

Although Finkle didn't take an SAT-preparation course and didn't even do sample questions, it would be a mistake to say he never prepared for the test. He and his parents, both English teachers at Southwestern Middle School, DeLand, see his whole education as preparation.

"I never did the SAT vocabulary cards," he said. "I just got a big vocabulary by reading a lot."

And from an early age. His mother, Andrea Finkle, remembers writing letters on crackers using cheese spread when he was 2. He had the alphabet pretty much down by then. He went on to skip second grade.

His father, David Finkle, recalls reading Harry Potter novels to Christopher when he was 4 and his sister, Alex, was 3.

"We read all of 'Lord of the Rings' to them," his father recalls. "It took nine months to read it out loud. We read the siege of Gondor during a hurricane."

His father, who taught Chris in his English class in sixth through eighth grade at Southwestern, views his son's achievement with both pride and amusement.

"Yes, I'm the anti-standardized testing guy," he says.

The older Finkle draws the cartoon strip "Mr. Fitz" that appears in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The central character is a schoolteacher who often voices frustration with the pressures and absurdities of high-stakes testing.

Christopher and his father currently are at work on a self-published young-adult series of novels. They finished the first volume, "Portents," in 2009 and are wrapping up the second.

"Anything you ever saw in 'In Search of' with Leonard Nimoy is in it," said Christopher.

"Big foot, Elvis, where your socks disappear to in the laundry, ancient Egypt ... it's all in there. We're having a good time with it," says his father.

When he was 12, Christopher won The News-Journal's Scary Story Contest in 2008.

But despite his love of writing, the subject which Christopher feels most at ease with is math.

"I thought if I did have a perfect score, it would be in math," he said. It's what he expects to major in when he goes to college.

Already, based on his past near-perfect scores on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Testing exams, colleges such as Princeton and Yale are sending letters pitching their programs.

He's not sure which college he'll apply to. "I don't really have a dream school," he said. He plans to tour campuses this summer.

A few nonacademic factors may also go into that decision. "I want to go north," he said. "I like DeLand, I just don't like the climate it's in."

— News-Journal
Datona Beach News-Journal



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