Fewer than 1 percent of high school students earn a perfect score — 800 points — on any section of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). It’s an achievement that, before this year, Woodland High School principal John Shoup said he’d only seen three or four times in his 20 years as principal of the school.
So he “flat-out couldn’t believe it” when three students from Woodland High School each got an 800 in the math section of the SAT this year. The Woodland School District calculated that, given the high school’s small size, the chances of having three students earn perfect math scores was less than one in 1 million.
“It’s not going to happen again in my career,” Shoup said Tuesday.
The three seniors — Orion Hollar, Michael Gabalis and Evan Ailinger — each credited family and careful preparation to their success. Mike Lindsay, a math teacher at Woodland High School, has had all three students in a classroom at some point. They’re smart, he said, but more importantly, they’re curious.
“With these guys, they have a thirst to understand,” Lindsay said. “It makes me feel good to say I’m a math teacher when I see kids like this coming out of here.”
Principal Shoup echoed Lindsay and said he’s excited to see where they go next.
“Hopefully they take their math skills and make the world better for all of us,” he said.
Hollar’s mother, a math teacher in the Hockinson School District, was a big help, he said.
“I grew up around math. Even before I knew English, she was trying to teach me math.”
Gabalis said he was always encouraged by his parents, grandfather and uncle to achieve more and pursue his interests in math.
Ailinger said that knowing he could pursue his goals without fear of disappointing his parents has been a big help.
“They would support me no matter what I wanted to do, within reason.”
Gabalis and Hollar are both Running Start students, and all three have plans in place after they graduate.
Gabalis said he’s been accepted to the University of Colorado-Boulder and Aeronautical University in Arizona, but he’s waiting to hear from his ideal school, the University of Washington. He’d like to get a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and work at Boeing.
Hollar will attend Oregon State University in the fall, and said he’s covered a year of classes already through credits earned through Running Start. He plans to study electrical engineering and is interested in his university’s wave energy research plans, which include the construction of a deep-water marine energy converter that uses waves and tides to generate electric power.
Not everyone thinks about where their energy comes from, Hollar said, and he’s fascinated by the ocean and how ocean energy could be harnessed.
Ailinger said he hasn’t committed yet but is leaning toward enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where he’d like to work as a nuclear power control board operator. He would serve on either a submarine or aircraft carrier, overseeing the vessel’s power system and solving problems if they arise.
“It’s a lot of physics math, and that’s growing on me,” he said.
They shared their strategies in preparing for the test, which more than 1 million students take each year.
Since his sister had taken the test two years before him, Hollar inherited her SAT prep book, which he started going over two months before the test. Both Ailinger and Gabalis studied by using Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational website that offers an SAT prep program for students that adjusts to the student’s particular weaknesses and strengths.
Ailinger practiced for 15 minutes a day using the website, and “when it came time for the test, I pretty much knew what would be on it.”
Gabalis said he also studied by helping other students prepare for the test.
For current students preparing to take the SAT, they had the following advice:
Hollar: “The (math) problems aren’t very complicated. It’s just a lot of problems touching a wide range of subjects.”
Ailinger: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The teachers around here are willing to help if you’re willing to ask for it.”
Gabalis: “Try to understand the concepts more than remembering certain problems. Also, instead of trying to smash a bunch of algebra in your head or learn something you don’t know yet, (focus on) simple math and algebra. The faster you can do that, the better you’re going to do ... It’s speed and efficiency.”