City posts worst SATs Baltimore students score 200 points below state, nation

Average is 815 of 1600

Some officials point to academic crisis in high schools

September 03, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF Staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

Baltimore's high school students posted the worst marks in the metropolitan area on the SAT college admission test last year, with city school students averaging some 200 points below the average score of high schoolers around the state and the nation.

The average score for students in the city in 1998 was 815 of a possible 1600 on the exam, which tests both reading and math skills.

Students in Maryland averaged 1014 on the test; the national average was 1017.

In Memphis, Tenn., a district with a similar number of students and an economic and racial makeup nearly identical to Baltimore's, the average SAT score was 1109 in 1997, the latest year for which statistics are available.

At Baltimore's Lake Clifton-Eastern, Southern, Northwestern, Forest Park and Southwestern high schools, students averaged less than what an athlete must achieve to be eligible for sports at a Division I-A school.

And even at Baltimore School for the Arts, Western High and Baltimore City College -- three of the city's four most highly touted schools -- students scored below state and national averages. Students who attend Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute, the fourth premier citywide school, scored about 30 points higher on average than their peers in Maryland and across the country.

There was some good news to be found in the numbers: More than 1,800 students took the exam, up from 1,700 in the year before (there are about 4,000 12th-graders in the city each year); and several schools whose scores are consistently among the lowest had increased scores last year.

But citywide scores this year dropped from 832 in 1997.Some school board members said yesterday the overall results point to the academic crisis that persists in the city's high schools.

"This just reinforces the idea that we have got to do something about our high schools," board Chairman J. Tyson Tildon said yesterday. "We have to figure out a way to get these children to do better on this exam."

Tildon noted that while the school board -- appointed last year to resuscitate the system's failing schools -- has focused its efforts so far on lower grades, it must soon turn its attention to older children.

"I can't really say why we haven't addressed the high schools yet, except to say that we've been concentrating our energies where we think we might see the most immediate returns," Tildon said. "But that will change."

Overall, city students averaged 415 on the verbal part of the test, and 400 on the math. Two-thirds of the test-takers -- about 1,200 students -- were female, but they didn't perform as well as males. Boys averaged 419 on verbal and 422 on math. Girls averaged 412 on verbal and 388 on math.

Most four-year colleges consider the SAT in their admissions process -- along with grade-point average, class rank and other factors -- and local colleges tend to accept students with considerably higher scores than those found in Baltimore's high schools.

According to the 1997 Fiske Guide to Colleges, the lowest composite SAT score found among freshmen at University of Maryland, College Park was 1060. At Goucher College, it was 1070.

Cass & Birnbaum's 1997 Guide to American Colleges reported that the average composite SAT score among freshmen at Morgan State University was 846.

At Frederick Douglass High School on the city's west side, principal Rose Davis was one of the few city leaders satisfied with the numbers. More of her students took the test -- 54 last year compared to 21 in 1997. And average composite scores in the school jumped 44 points, from 667 to 711.

Davis said SAT prep courses and after-school programs made the difference.

"In previous years, our students were not taking the test until 12th grade," Davis said. "But last year, we started to have SAT prep during the school year. After they take the PSAT in 10th grade, what I tell my students is 'Just take the SAT.' "

Davis said she knows the scores still aren't where they should be.

"I would love to see it double," she said. "There is no way we can continue at the same level."

Board member Carl Stokes said the board must change student and teacher behavior to raise scores.

"The kids aren't really prepared to take the test, and I think teachers are not really feeling good about sending high numbers of kids to take the test," Stokes said.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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