While Frederick County students did better on their math SATs this year, their performance on the critical reading and writing portions of the test decreased slightly.
The average score for Frederick County students in math this year increased by four points, to 528, according to results released by the College Board on Sept. 24.
But the average score has declined by two points to 515 in critical reading and by three points to 501 in SAT writing, the results show.
While the number of test takers in Frederick County remained flat at 2,047, the average combined SAT score for the county has also gone down by one point to 1544.
However, county school officials said they are not concerned by the decline.
Despite the drop in scores, the average combined score of Frederick County students still exceeds the state SAT average of 1487 and the national average of 1498.
In a voluntary test like the SAT, where the number of test-takers is only a portion of the overall student body, small fluctuations are not unusual from year to year, officials said.
That is why the test should be seen as just one of many measures used to assess school and district performance, officials said.
“Our focus is on setting high expectations for our kids,” said Steve Hess, the school system’s director for research, development and accountability. “This is just one more indication that we have a high-performing group of kids.”
The SAT is a standardized test used in college admissions nationwide. The perfect SAT score is 2400, or 800 points in each of the three tested categories. The test is not mandatory and is paid for by students, who can take it multiple times.
Although colleges can accept students based on their highest score in each test category, the results released by the College Board do not reflect the students’ best results, but rather the score from the students’ most recent exam.
Local officials offered some explanations for the differences in students’ performance this year in math and reading and writing.
The math section is more aligned to high school math courses, such as algebra and geometry, than the reading or writing portions of the test, making it easier for students to prepare for that portion of the test, said Peter Cincotta, the county’s secondary curriculum specialist for math.
“The math is more high school math, while the reading is college-level,” Cincotta said.
Frederick County in recent years has focused on promoting understanding of math, rather than pushing students to get the right answer, but Cincotta could not say if that may be a reason for the rise in SAT math scores.
Whatever the reason, the county is following the national trend.
While SAT math scores in Maryland and nationwide have remained steady in the past year, average scores in critical reading and writing have dropped. The average score in Maryland for SAT critical reading has dropped by two points to 497 and by a point to 496 nationwide. In writing, the average score has dropped by three points to 488 in Maryland and by a point to 488 nationwide.
However, because only a portion of the students in the county take the SATs, and the county does not have to follow federal and state mandates for test scores as it does with Maryland School Assessments, officials are less focused on score fluctuations year-to-year, they said.
“We have a standards-based curriculum,” said Cincotta, who cautioned against overinterpreting the test results. “It’s easy to fall victim to various trends and numbers.”
The overall trend with county SAT scores is toward leveling off as more students take the test each year, officials said.
Compared to 2007, when 62 percent, or 1,668, of the county’s high school students took the SAT, test-takers this year represent 67 percent, or 2,047 students.
“This is very significant,” Cincotta said. “There are students of all abilities taking the test. That really speaks to our college and career push. Our push encourages kids to go beyond high school.”
Experts nationwide have expressed similar sentiments. Although there have been concerns about reading results hitting a record, four-decade low across the nation, some experts have questioned if that has been a result of more students taking the exam, some of whom are first-generation college-bound students.
Some colleges have now started looking for alternative ways to measure whether students are ready for their course requirements. For a first time this year, the SAT’s main competitor in college-admissions testing — the ACT — has become the nation’s most popular college exam.
Across Maryland, some counties have also seen a decline in SAT scores, including Carroll and Howard counties.
Some area districts, however, have beat the downward trend in SAT scores this year, including Montgomery County Public Schools, which reported a 14-point increase in their average SAT combined score of 1651.
Angie Fish, the president of the Frederick County Board of Education, who teaches in Montgomery County, said that school system’s high SAT score this year may be a direct result of a focus on SAT test preparation.
Participating in an SAT preparation course in high school can help students raise their average score significantly, said Fish, who has taught such courses in the past.
Frederick County is on the right path, and, for a first time this year, is offering students the opportunity to take SAT preparation courses online, Fish said.
“We are moving in the right direction,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean that we should stop there. Obviously, we need to continue to do better.”