SAT Results Improve, with Highest-Ever Math Score

August 27, 2002
The 2002 SAT results from the Educational Testing Service show that the 6,814 seniors who took the exam produced an average score of 1095, an increase of three points over last year that surpassed the average score attained nearly 30 years ago and achieved the second-highest systemwide average SAT score in MCPS history.

The improvement was fueled by the highest-ever average score of 560 in mathematics, eclipsing the previous record set in 2000. The school system also had the highest-ever participation rate of 81 percent. This represents the largest number of graduating seniors ever to take the SAT in MCPS and an increase of 866 students over the class of 1999, which scored the highest systemwide average of 1096.

The combined overall score, which includes a decline of one point in the verbal portion (535), is still the highest in Maryland and 75 points above both the statewide and national averages. The improvement in the county's average score reflects increases of one to 11 points for all racial and ethnic groups except African American students.

White students recorded the highest-ever average score of 1159 with an increase of five points and a record-setting participation rate of 83 percent. Asian American students achieved the highest-ever score of 1138 with an 11-point increase and the highest-ever participation rate of 86 percent, the highest in the school system. Hispanic students gained a one-point increase to 950 and the highest-ever participation rate of 47 percent. African American students achieved an average score that declined by five points to 906 with a participation rate of 59 percent.

"The comparison to 1973 is important in understanding the magnitude of the achievements being made in MCPS," Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said in a report to the Board of Education. In 1973, when the school system attained an average score of 1093, only 62 percent of the class took the test1,328 fewer students than in 2002 even though the senior classes were about the same size (8,797 students compared with 8,464 last year).

"The increase now in both the average scores and the number of participants underscores the school system's efforts to provide greater opportunities for success for a larger and more diverse group of students," Weast said.

"The lack of significant progress on average by African American and Hispanic students in last year's senior class is related, in part, to a combination of factors, which are being addressed by ongoing systemwide and individual school reforms," he said.

For example, the report noted that the mathematics audit in 2001 and the reforms implemented following the countywide exams in 2000 identified a wide variance in the instructional practices among high schools. Some high schools at that time were awarding passing grades on countywide exams that would have merited failure in other county schools. The lowered expectations for groups of students was typical then of instructional programs that were not rigorous enough in some schools to adequately prepare students for the demands of the college preparatory material covered by the SAT.

The reforms instituted since that time are targeting increased expectations for higher student achievement for all students, including special education students, and providing principals and teachers with the tools to improve their individual school instructional programs, as well as to support students and their parents in gaining access to improved instructional opportunities. These improvements coincide with plans under way by the Educational Testing Service to make the SAT more rigorous with higher-level mathematics and the introduction of an essay writing component.

"Unfortunately, these efforts have not had enough time to overcome the experiences of students who already have completed or are completing their high school academic program," Dr. Weast said. "The greatest impact of the programmatic reforms is not expected to have a substantial effect on the SAT results until current ninth and tenth graders take the exam in the coming years."

One important goal of MCPS is to improve the minimum achievement on the SAT to a recognized standard, such as a score of 1000 on the SAT. This score level is already established by the Board of Education as part of the high school academic attainment standards approved last December.

The Board identified the benchmark requirements for a "college rigorous" high school education as including an SAT score of 1000 or higher. The Board also approved other standards for various levels of college preparation and set individual school performance standards that will be evaluated this year.

Other changes include countywide exams for high schools and consistent grading scales in the same courses targeted by the state's high school assessments. In addition, the PSAT assessment is being given to all tenth graders as an early indicator of student preparation for college. Greater attention is being given increasingly to ninth graders in many schools.

More career choices are available for students who want to focus on specific areas of study. High school teachers and principals are working closely with middle school and elementary school teachers to ensure that students now in the earlier grades will be ready for the new rigor expected in high school. Teacher training is focusing on improving expectations for student performance among an increasingly diverse enrollment.

The alignment of instructional programs and academic planning between elementary and secondary schools through vertical articulation ensures that students receive a strong continuity and consistency of education. For example, the newly designed acceleration of elementary instruction, in which the first middle school mathematics course could be given to able students as early as Grade 3, will have a long-term impact on student readiness for rigorous high school instruction.

The full report is available on the school system's website at the link below.

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