Last Year's Seniors Score Above 1100, Highest Ever SAT

August 31, 2004
The highest systemwide average SAT score (1102) ever achieved by the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) was produced by the graduating class of 2004, marking the first time the average score has exceeded 1100.

The average score increased by eight points, a statistically significant improvement compared to 2003. The average included the highest ever average mathematics score (561) and the highest average verbal score in 12 years (541), the first increase in the average verbal score in five years. The improvements were achieved with a student participation rate of 80.2 percent, representing the largest group (7,263 students) ever to take the test in the school district.

Scores Reflect High School Reforms

The higher SAT scores mark the achievements of the first graduating class of students taking the SAT who were exposed to the full range of the ongoing high school reforms in Montgomery County. The reforms began when the students were ninth graders in the 2000-2001 school year and have expanded greatly the opportunities for more rigorous coursework in preparation for college.

In addition, the improvement included a significant gain in the system's “average highest score,” the same number used by colleges to identify the best performance among students on the SAT. The system's average highest score increased to 1115 last year, the best result ever and an increase of eight points over the year before.

“The gains in SAT performance reflect the structural and content improvements implemented in the system's high schools over the last five years,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education.

Dr. Weast noted that the high school improvements included strengthened curriculum, improved assessments, greater coordination among and within schools, and increased staff training and professional development. The improvements also included increased student enrollment in expanded Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses, increased participation in AP exams in which students have consistently earned high scores for college credit, and greater use of the PSAT in Grade 10 as a predictive assessment for more challenging course work. Reforms also produced improved guidance and counseling, more specialized preparation courses, and higher expectations for both better teaching and learning.

“The improved SAT results are but one of several data points indicating the success of this initiative,” Dr. Weast said. “The work of high school principals, teachers, and support staff is having an obvious positive effect on the performance of their students.”

More High Schools Above 1100

Twice as many high schools (four) produced average SAT scores above 1200 this year, compared to two high schools in 2000; and 11 high schools produced average scores above 1100, compared to just seven high schools five years ago. During that five-year period (2000-2004), the school system maintained a participation rate of 80 percent on the SAT, compared to 76 percent during the previous five years.

At the same time, the SAT scores have remained consistently high, averaging at about 1095 during the most recent five years, compared to 1091 in the five years prior to 2000.

“All of this has occurred during a significant demographic change in student enrollment, characterized by greater cultural and racial/ethnic diversity, greater student impoverishment, greater limited English proficiency, and more students with disabilities,” Dr. Weast said. Nearly half (49.2 percent) of last year's graduating class were African American, Asian American, and Hispanic students.

The eight-point gain to an average score of 1102 is the largest single-year improvement in 16 years, surpassing by 76 points this year both the Maryland and national average of 1026. While the state and national performance has remained essentially flat, the school system has continued to move forward.

The improvement was spurred in large measure by a 33-point improvement by Asian American students (1160) and a 10-point gain by white students (1163). The overall average scores for African American and Hispanic students largely did not change, remaining steady among African American (917) and declining by one point among Hispanic students (944).

Improvements Among FARMS Students

However, the average scores for African American and Hispanic students receiving federal meal assistance increased significantly-- up 17 points among African American students (854) and six points among Hispanic students (837). This is an important point because the percentage of both groups of students participating in the Free and Reduced-price Meal System (FARMS) is increasing, lowering the overall average score for each group even as the specific subgroup scores increase.

In the case of Hispanic students, the average scores for both FARMS and non-FARMS students increased but the overall average declined. Dr. Weast noted that this effect is known mathematically as “Simpson's Paradox” and “figures prominently in our understanding of the effects of the changing demographics of Montgomery County and the impact of greater poverty among students.”

Overall, the average score among students receiving meal assistance increased by 16 points to 894, significantly below the average score among those who did not receive such assistance (1119, up 11 points). The average score among students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program was 757, down 54 points from 2003, compared to an average score of 1108 (up 11 points) among non-ESOL students.

The average score of students receiving special education services increased by 26 points to 924, compared to an average score of 1112 (up seven points) among students who do not receive special education services.

New SAT Coming Next Year

This year's historic average score of 1102 will be the last such score for the current form of the SAT, which is measured on a 1600-point scale. A new SAT is being introduced that will be measured on a 2400-point scale. In the past, most college-bound seniors took the SAT before March of their senior year. Thus the impact of the new SAT on district and school SAT scores may not be evident immediately for the Class of 2005. Students most likely to be affected by the changes to the content and format of the SAT are those planning to graduate in 2006 and 2007. New strategies are being implemented to enhance current interventions so that students are prepared for the revised test.

“The SAT, in whatever form, will remain a substantive measure of student readiness for college, which is a major goal of our school system,” Dr. Weast said. “The success this past year in improving student achievement among high school students reflects, in part, the continuing progress in enrolling more students in rigorous and challenging coursework. Similar initiatives are under way at the elementary level.

“We know, for example, that our efforts to overcome the influence of poverty on academic achievement in elementary grades are making a sizable difference, as evident in the recent results of the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) and the Maryland School Assessment (MSA). Schools most heavily impacted by student poverty show improvement in student achievement.

Greening the Red Zone

The elementary improvements are known as the “greening of the red zone” because schools with heavy student poverty are achieving the same high level of achievement as schools without such poverty.

“Now, significant work needs to be undertaken at the middle school level to link the academic reform initiatives between elementary schools and high schools and form a true pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 improvement program,” Dr. Weast said. “The end result will be even better preparation of students for success beyond high school.”

<<Back to browse