Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Double-digit drop on SATs

Montgomery students continue to outpace state and nation

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Montgomery County’s Class of 2007 posted average scores on the SAT that were 10 points below those of the Class of 2006, following statewide and national trends, according to results released Tuesday by the county’s public school system.

County public school students earned an average combined score of 1624, including 537 in critical reading, 552 in math and 535 in writing.

By comparison, the statewide averages for graduating seniors totaled 1498, down 13 points from a year ago.

That included a statewide average of 500 in reading, 502 in math and 496 in writing.

The national average was 1511, down 7 points, including an average of 502 in reading, 515 in math and 494 in writing.

It was the second year the College Board reported scores for the 2,400-point test, which is longer than the former 1,600-point test and includes a writing section with an essay. State and national averages include scores of private and public school students.

County school officials attributed the decrease to more students taking the college entrance exam than ever before, including many newcomers to the school system.

‘‘In other words, the increased number of low scores from students with fewer years of enrollment overwhelmed the higher scores, negatively weighing the overall average and masking the performance of students with more education in MCPS,” Superintendent Jerry D. Weast wrote in a Tuesday memo to the county school board.

The 10-point decrease was not directly reflected in the scores of any ethnic group. Average scores increased for Hispanic students (up 8 points to 1418) and white students (up 1 point to 1736). Average scores of African-American students (1357) and Asian-American students (1706) decreased by 3 points and 2 points, respectively.

Students with four or more years in county schools performed 181 points better than students with three or fewer years in the system, Weast noted in the memo.

‘‘We continue to make improvements across the board,” said board member Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park. ‘‘I think the changing population of our school system is having an impact on our scores.”

African-American and Hispanic students’ participation increased more than any other group, by 213 and 146 test-takers respectively.

The average score for African-American students with three or fewer years in county schools declined 27 points from 2006. Their score was 84 points lower than African-American students with four or more years in the school system, whose average score increased by 1 point to 1369.

The average score for Hispanic students with three or fewer years in county schools increased by 34 points to 1362, although they still lagged behind that of Hispanic students with four or more years, which increased by 4 points to 1423.

Despite the discrepancies, the school system’s goal continues to be increasing participation for students who have not historically taken the SAT, Weast said in a statement.

‘‘We’re thrilled that we saw double-digit increases in participation for both African American and Latino students this year,” he said. ‘‘Success on the test will come as more and more students are exposed to our rigorous curriculum.”

It is difficult to know how best to prepare newcomers to county schools, Barclay said.

The question to ask, he said, is, ‘‘Are we doing the assessments so we know as quickly as possibly this is what we’re going to need?”

Schools develop plans for every new student, said Heath E. Morrison, community superintendent for the Blair, Einstein, Northwood and Kennedy clusters. Educators need to ‘‘see what [students’] goals are, what they’re going to need, what skills do you have that are going to prepare you for success on the SAT and ACT?”

Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring did a good job of analyzing students’ scores on their PSAT or first SAT try and identifying the skills they needed to improve, Morrison said. Blair was able to improve its overall average score by 51 points and its average score for African-American students by 106 points.

Seventy-nine percent of the county’s Class of 2007 took the SAT, but fewer students are retaking the test because of its increased length and difficulty, Weast wrote in the memo. Increased familiarity with the tests usually leads to improved scores.

The changes in the SAT have led to more students taking the ACT. The number of county students taking the ACT has increased by more than 700 students since 2004, to 1,735 students in 2007.

The ACT includes English, math, reading and science sections. Average composite scores for county students were 23.6 versus 21.6 statewide. County students’ average scores on all four sections increased.

Tougher academics, including steadily increasing participation in honors, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses are at the heart of the school system’s efforts to improve students achievement on the SAT and ACT. Extra help for students, such as the High School Plus program, which offers after-school refresher courses for students at regional centers around the county, is also part of the effort.

But data show that the SAT remains slanted to more affluent students, Barclay said.

‘‘Who scores best on the SAT?” he said. ‘‘It’s the more advantaged economically. Unfortunately, that’s the predictor with the SAT. I don’t know how much of an effect we can have on that.”

2007 SAT scores

The 2,400-point SAT test, launched last year, is evenly divided into three tests — mathematics, reading and an essay question. For more on the county school system’s results, including breakdowns by subgroups and school, go to www.gazette.net⁄links.