SAT Scores High, African American Average Up 11 Pts.

August 26, 2003
The average SAT scores for the graduating class of 2003 remained at historically high levels, well above the national and state results, as African American students gained an 11-point increase over the previous year. The largest group of graduating seniors ever in the Montgomery County Public Schools (7,172 students) took the exam in preparation for college admissions.

The systemwide average score declined by just one point to 1094, remaining among the highest in the state and the Washington area. The systemwide math score declined by one point to 559, still the second highest average math score ever, and the verbal score remained the same at 535. Average scores for Asian American, Hispanic, and white students declined but remained consistent with results of the past several years.

This year's combined verbal and math score of 1094 was the third highest average score in the school system's history and exceeded the mark set in 1973 when the school system tested nearly 2,000 fewer students and had a demographic makeup that was remarkably different than today, with far more students now affected by poverty and limited English proficiency.

“The maintenance of comparatively high SAT results during a time of such incredible change in the student enrollment is significant,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education. “Our district is the largest, most diverse in Maryland and among the most demographically diverse systems in the nation, with significant economic, linguistic, and cultural changes becoming more apparent all the time,” Dr. Weast said. “Yet, we have maintained the SAT participation rate at the all time high level of 81 percent for two years in a row, along with consistently high systemwide average scores.”

This is the seventh consecutive year that the school district has exceeded 1090 as an average, the longest stretch of high-performing years in the past 30 years, even as the participation rate has increased during that time from 75 percent in 1997 to 81 percent for the past two years.

Particularly noteworthy is the 11-point increase by African American students (to an average score of 917), which reverses a trend of declining scores and, at the same time, reflects a continued steady increase in the number of African American students taking the exam -- 1,111 students, representing 64 percent of the African American seniors last year, the largest number and the highest percentage of African American students ever to take the exam.

“Of course, the one-year reversal is not yet a trend, but it signals the potential for continued improvements in the performance of African American students,” Dr. Weast said. “Indeed, this graduating class was the first to benefit from the effort to provide PSAT testing in tenth grade that began opening up higher-level courses and more rigorous studies systemwide and marked a significant expansion of academic opportunity in our high schools.”

The overall change in scores among Asian American students (1127, a decline of nine points), white students (1153, a decline of six points), and Hispanic students (945, a decline of five points) largely offsets one-year gains made the year before.

Dr. Weast noted “ongoing demographic shifts continue to transform our school district, even as the academic reforms of the past three years begin to produce evidence of change and progress, including the new results of the Maryland School Assessments and the expansion of student participation in the PSAT.

“However, we must continue to ensure that the efforts under way to improve student access to higher-level academic opportunities carry the same level of high expectations for quality instruction and student success that we have come to expect in our school district,” he said.

The superintendent also noted that “efforts to expand opportunities for more students to pursue college choices will affect student performance on average for at least the short term, with the likelihood at times of declining average scores.”

“With a rising level of poverty and greater diversity by race, ethnicity, and language proficiency, the expectation is that maintaining consistently high average performance will be exceedingly difficult,” he said “The fact that scores have remained at such historically high levels for seven straight years underscores the enduring strength of our instructional program.”

Other Highlights:

* The percentage of African American and Hispanic students who scored above the 1200 mark increased slightly, by one percentage point each, to 8 percent for African American students and 13 percent for Hispanic students. The category reflects the level of achievement necessary for highly competitive university enrollment.

* By comparison, 42 percent of white students (down by 2 percent) and 40 percent of Asian American students (down by 1 percent) scored at this level. At the other end of the spectrum, the percentage of African American students scoring below 900 decreased by three percentage points (46 percent), while increasing by two percentage points for Hispanic students (43 percent), two percentage points for Asian American students (17 percent), and one percentage point for white students (10 percent).

* A study by the Office of Shared Accountability illustrates the effect of poverty as a contributing factor to student underperformance. For example, there was a 181-point difference among Hispanic students who had never been in the Free and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS) and the much larger group of Hispanic students who had been in the program (an average score of 1055 compared to 874).

* The poverty effect was evident among African American students, nearly half of whom had participated in FARMS and scored on average at 869.

Note: A detailed report provided individual school results.

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