Students' Average Highest SAT Scores Acknowledged

October 10, 2003
A new analysis of SAT data for the past several years reveals another, largely unacknowledged dimension of student scores on the annual examination of college readiness -- the average of the highest SAT scores by students and schools.

For the Montgomery County Public Schools, the average highest score for last year's senior class was 1107, which is 13 points higher than the average score reported in a late August release of SAT data nationally.

The school system has followed the practice of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in reporting an average score based on the last administration of the test. However, many students take the test several times, and colleges and universities frequently place a greater value on the highest score for a given student, notwithstanding any subsequent lower scores.

The new data will not replace previously reported SAT scores, but they do “demonstrate that the range of average student achievement is far higher on the SAT than previously reported,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education.

Preliminary analysis suggests that students who take the test only once and make no effort to improve their performance on a subsequent attempt heavily affect the last administration average score. Many of these students take the SAT very late in high school as a requirement for community college course placement and either have not succeeded in the requisite English and mathematics courses (such as Algebra II) or have not taken available SAT preparatory programs, offered by high schools or through private companies and tutors.

Efforts are under way by high school principals, with assistance from the central office staff, to help more students succeed in the necessary courses required for rigorous college studies, which is a fundamental component of achieving success on the SAT regardless of when the test is taken.

Over the past four years, the average highest SAT score for the school district has stayed consistently between 1106 and 1109. By comparison, the school district's average score for the last administration has stayed between 1093 and 1096. The trend line for both sets of SAT scores shows the same pattern over that time, increasing or decreasing at the same times.

For individual schools, the use of average highest data also demonstrates the same insights about the greater range of student performance than previously reported. Richard Montgomery High School, for example, had an average highest score of 1212 that was 35 points above the average for the last administration of the test. Similarly, Albert Einstein High School was 11 points higher at 1009 on the average highest score compared to the last administration average score.

Among data disaggregated by race and ethnicity, the review showed that the same pattern held true. For African American students, for example, the average highest SAT score in 2003 was 13 points higher at 930 than the reported average score for the last administration of the test. Similar results were found for Hispanic students, rising 13 points to 958 on the average highest score compared to the last administration score. The average highest SAT score for white students was 12 points higher at 1165, and 17 points higher for Asian American students at 1144.

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