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Local schools seek to boost SAT scores
Friday, September 28, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Local SAT scores are well below the state and national averages, and local schools are looking for ways to bring the scores up.
According to scores released by the College Board on Monday, out of 229 test-takers in Henry County Public Schools, the average scores were: 448 for critical reading, 445 for math and 434 for writing. That totals 1,327.
Out of 112 test takers in Martinsville City Schools, the average scores were: 424 for critical reading, 433 for math and 419 for writing. That totals 1,276.
Out of 98 test takers in Patrick County Public Schools, the average scores were: 484 for critical reading, 482 for math and 466 for writing. That totals 1,432.
The SAT Benchmark score is 1,550 for all three subject scores combined. That indicates a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during the first year of study at a four-year college, according to a College Board news release.
Among the high school class of 2012 nationwide, 43 percent of all SAT takers met that benchmark. This class of 2011 also met the benchmark at a rate of 43 percent.
Among 2012 Virginia public school students only:
• The average reading score of 508 is 17 points higher than the national average.
• The average math score of 510 is five points higher.
• The average writing score of 492 is 11 points higher.
The average scores for 2012 Virginia public school graduates rose three points in math, dropped by one point in critical reading and remained unchanged in writing compared with last year’s results. Among public school students nationwide, achievement dropped in all three areas — by one point in mathematics and one point in writing, according to the VDOE release.
A total of 53,806 public school graduates in the state took the SAT, a slight increase in participation over the previous year’s 53,457 public school participants. In all, 68 percent of the state’s public school graduates in 2012 took the SAT, according to a Virginia Department of Education release.
Virginia students were tested for the first time in 2011-2012 on the revised and more rigorous math standards that the Board of Education approved in 2009. This school year, new English assessments, based on college and career-ready standards approved by the board in 2010, will be implemented, the VDOE release said.
“We have some work to do,” said Dr. Jared Cotton, Henry County Schools superintendent.
In addition to the scores, another area of concern for Cotton is that the number of county students taking the test decreased. He did not have figures for the drop.
Fewer students may be participating because they decided not to go to college or decided to attend a community college, but “we want to encourage our students to take the SAT so that we know that they are preparing for college,” he said.
Cotton has shared the SAT scores with county high school and middle school principals. Middle school principals were included because students cannot wait until high school to start preparing for the SAT, he said.
“We must prepare them (students) long before” they enter high school, he said. The school system must “make sure it (SAT preparation) is imbedded in our K-12 curriculum,” he added.
A priority in the classroom should be preparing for both the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and SAT test, Cotton said. The tests “are very different” but teachers can prepare students for both by increasing rigor in classrooms, he added.
“The teachers are working to improve the scores” and have been meeting to look at the SAT results to determine ways to prepare students for all three important tests: SAT, SOL and Advanced Placement (AP) tests, he said. “It’s going to be a big part of our conversation” over the next few weeks, he added.
In the county high schools, there are SAT preparation courses available for students to take as well as college guides who help students prepare. The guides hold morning and afternoon test preparation sessions for students and some Saturday sessions, Cotton said.
In the high school English classrooms, teachers introduce new words to students to help them develop their vocabulary before taking the SAT, he said.
Another option being considered is to have students complete classroom tests in a limited amount of time. The SAT is a timed test, unlike SOL tests. Students are not used to being timed, which makes it important to start exposing students to that on a regular basis, Cotton said.
“Clearly we would like to see the scores at least meeting the state and national averages,” said Pam Heath, city schools superintendent.
SAT scores show how well students are doing compared to other students across the state and country. Heath wants local students to be competitive with those from anywhere, and “we are not there yet,” she said. “There’s always that room for improvement.”
“We need to increase the rigor of how we teach” to further prepare students for the SAT tests, Heath said.
Also, the school system must continue project-based learning in which students take what they have learned and apply it to real-life scenarios, she said. Instead of memorizing, students analyze information and use it to create something or make a decision, she added.
To help students prepare for the SAT, there are test-preparation sessions held either at private workshops or at the high school. The sessions help students understand the types of questions to expect on the SAT test, the mechanics of the test and strategies for answering questions, Heath said.
Heath did find some good news in that more city school students have been taking the test over the past few years, she said. She did not have figures.
That indicates more students are going on to higher education, and “that’s a good thing,” Heath said.
“I do think students take it (SAT test) seriously,” Heath said. As students realize the importance of higher education, they realize that their performance on the test can make a big difference on what college they are accepted to, she added.
Moriah Dollarhite, principal at Patrick County High School, said that Patrick County High School’s SAT scores were “very comparable to the national average, with the greatest success being in reading.”
Dollarhite feels that as students and teachers implement and experience success with the new English and math standards, students will strengthen their capability to reason, draw conclusions and use critical thinking skills, she said.
“This academic rigor will strengthen students’ performance on the SAT and further prepare them for success in college and the workplace,” Dollarhite said.
SAT test preparation classes are available for students at the high school, she added.