Test-score analysis gives extra credit to Maryland SAT performance: The state fares better in comparative results when calculations are adjusted by factoring in participation rates.

The Education Beat

April 24, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

EVERY YEAR when the Scholastic Assessment Test scores come out, the choir on the right hauls out the hymnals and sings: "See, money makes no difference!"

The song goes something like this: The states that score well on the SAT are relatively low-spending. Conversely, high-spending states such as Maryland perform relatively poorly -- in Maryland's case in the middle of the national pack.

Southern politicians swell with pride. Mississippi, one of the poorest states economically, ranks in the teens among the 50 states if only raw scores are considered.

But since the mid-1980s, researchers have been begging fellow researchers, policy-makers, politicians and the news media to adjust the scores for the SAT participation rate of high school seniors. A small participation produces a high score, but according to the latest research, 85 percent of the variation in scores among states is attributable to this single factor.

The latest analysis comes in the spring issue of the Harvard Educational Review. Researchers Brian Powell and Lala Carr Steelman (who had done the same thing 12 years ago) looked carefully at the 1993 test, adjusting the raw scores for participation rate. The researchers calculated an "expected" SAT score for each state, then took a look at the rankings.

Voila! Maryland, where 66 percent of students took the test, rose from 32nd to 13th, its expected score 20 points lower than its raw score. Mississippi, where the state's elite 4 percent took the test, plummeted from 16th to 50th, dead last.

The states showing a notable improvement, besides Maryland, were Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. States in which rankings worsened: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.

The Harvard researchers looked at other variables, too. They found that class rank was closely related to success on the SAT. And everywhere they found a link to spending. "These findings are quite robust," they wrote. "Indeed, the positive link between expenditures and state SAT scores persists across a number of conditions."

The bottom line is money: It makes a difference.

3 small Maryland colleges win praise in guidebook

A new guidebook, "Colleges That Change Lives," purports to advise the average student, the kid who gets B's and C's in high school and doesn't aim for the Ivy League or big research machines like the University of Maryland.

Of "40 schools you should know about even if you're not a straight-A student," author Loren Pope lists three in Maryland.

Goucher College is praised for its phenomenal record in helping students find jobs. "Since 1920," Mr. Pope writes, "[Goucher] has had one of the best, most innovative, forward-looking and effective career development offices in the nation."

St. John's College, with campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, N.M., "has no need of Establishment pretensions. This is a place only for those who read and who are interested in ideas and fundamental questions."

Western Maryland College is praised for its down-home atmosphere, small classes and academic record.

Prom night promenade for Salisbury students

Friday is Senior Prom Night for James M. Bennett High School in Salisbury, and it is a Big Deal! Seniors are dismissed at 10: 45 a.m. for final preparations. The mother of one participant estimates 80 limos have been reserved for the evening. The other two Salisbury high schools hold their senior proms on other nights, but all three share a tradition. There's a "Grand March" around the Civic Center ballroom about 9 p.m. For a small fee, family members, friends and anyone else interested can watch from the mezzanine.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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