Officials minimize SAT dip

January 30, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Howard County public school systemStaff Writer

Howard County school officials are playing down the significance of last year's Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, which dropped even as state and national scores rose.

As a group, the more than 1,600 high school seniors who took the SAT in 1993 posted a combined math and verbal score of 969 points, seven points lower than in 1992, when students scored 976 points, a local record.

Yet last year's score is higher than the statewide score of 909 points, a two-point increase from the previous year, and higher than the national score of 902, a three-point increase from the previous year.

Universities use the multiple-choice SAT as an entrance exam and as a predictor of success in college. The verbal sections test vocabulary and reading comprehension, and the math sections test algebraic and geometric skills.

"There wasn't anything really significant," school board Chairman Dana Hanna said of the local drop in test scores. "The reality is, if you look at the trend line, it's definitely upward. It's the trend that's more significant."

From 1989, when the SAT average was 960, the combined score has risen each year until 1993.

County students posted a score of 454 on the test's verbal

section in 1993, one point lower than the previous year. The county's verbal scores have fluctuated over a 13-year period, from a low of 442 points in 1981 to a high of 462 points in 1987.

County students averaged 515 on the math section last year, a six-point decrease from the previous year. But the county's math scores likewise have fluctuated, from a low of 480 points in 1981 to a high of 521 points in 1992.

As a group, Asian-American students continued to score highest on the test, with a combined math and verbal score of 1,016. Even so, that score is some 50 points lower than the previous year.

Hispanic-American students ranked second in the county, with a combined score of 1,006 -- four points lower than the previous year.

White students were third in the county, with a score of 997 -- one point lower than the previous year.

Black students ranked fourth in Howard County, at 824, a seven-point decrease from 1992. But they exceeded the state average of 750 points and the national average of 741 points for black students.

Nationally and in the state, scores of Asian-Americans ranked first; whites, second; Hispanic-Americans, third; and blacks, fourth.

Bobbi Crews, head of the Black Student Achievement Program's Parent Advisory Council, said black students are less prepared for the test and sometimes unaware of the importance of SAT scores.

"I think we need to start earlier and let African-American kids know SATs are important to them [after] graduating," she said. "And the parents need to be informed at the middle school level, not when [their children] get into high school."

She noted that the Black Student Achievement Program has expanded an academic monitoring program for black students, which began at Atholton High School last year. The program has been extended to middle and elementary schools and to three more high schools, Oakland Mills, Hammond and Centennial.

Under that program, a parent volunteer at each school works one-on-one with black students to ensure that students keep their grades up and that they get tutoring if they need extra help.

Of the county's eight high schools, three saw their scores climb. Five saw their scores drop.

Wilde Lake had the biggest jump, 18 points to a total of 945. Oakland Mills saw the biggest drop, a 30-point decrease to a total score of 937.

Centennial again posted the highest combined scores, an increase of five points to 1,062. Howard again posted the lowest, 932 points, a drop of seven.

But Mr. Hanna said that schools should not be considered better because they have higher scores or worse because they have lower scores. "Merely plugging in an SAT number and calling the number the school's performance is extremely distorting," he said. "It doesn't factor in the different student bodies that exist in the different schools."

Rather, parents and others should judge a school on its ability to address the educational needs of its particular student body, he said.

"It has to do with programming, how they focus their entire program around students," he said. "I'll take a school with a lesser test score and call it the better school when that school focuses on student performance. I would hope all schools are doing that. And I believe they are."

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1992-1993 HOWARD COUNTY SAT SCORES

High school ... ... ... Verbal ... Math ... Total ... Point change

Atholton ... .. ... ... 447 ... .. 506 .. .. 953 .. .. -24

Centennial ... .. .. .. 495 ... .. 567 .. .. 1,062 ... +5

Glenelg .. ... .. .. .. 454 ... .. 526 .. .. 980 .. .. -5

Hammond .. ... .. .. .. 450 ... .. 498 .. .. 948 .. .. -6

Howard ... ... .. .. .. 441 ... .. 491 .. .. 932 .. .. -7

Mount Hebron ... ... .. 447 ... .. 513 .. .. 960 .. .. +8

Oakland Mills .. ... .. 436 ... .. 501 .. .. 937 .. .. -30

Wilde Lake ... .. .. .. 450 ... .. 495 .. .. 945 .. .. +18

Howard County ... .. .. 454 ... .. 515 .. .. 969 .. .. -7

Maryland ... ... ... .. 431 ... .. 478 .. .. 909 .. .. +2

United States ... .. .. 424 ... .. 478 .. .. 902 .. .. +3

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