SAT scores high, but dip slightly

Combined figures fall 3 points below last year's results

Small fluctuations expected

Maryland ranks fifth of 13 states in which 65% of seniors took test

September 01, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman and Howard Libit | Erika D. Peterman and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The overall SAT score for Howard County students dropped slightly this year, but the Class of 1999 still performed well above the state and national averages on the college entrance exam.

The county's combined average score was 1081 out of a possible 1600, three points below last year's figure. Students scored 534 on the verbal portion of the test, a one-point drop, and 547 on the math portion, down two points from last year.

However, Howard's overall performance was among the highest in the region yesterday, topping that of Anne Arundel (1051), Baltimore County (1008) and Baltimore City (810).

School systems in Carroll and Harford counties did not release their scores yesterday. The national SAT combined average score was 1016 points, and Maryland students averaged 1014. Maryland's Class of 1999 ranked fifth out of the 13 states in which at least 65 percent of high school seniors take the SAT, according to the College Board.

The Howard scores reflect the performance of 1999 seniors who took the test at any time in high school through March this year.The SAT is the main college entrance exam for students in the eastern and northeastern United States.

Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey was unavailable to comment. Schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said small fluctuations in test scores are common.

"A couple of points back and forth are to be expected," she said. "We look over a period of years. If we were to see a consistent drop that would be reason for concern."

While officials are happy about the high performance of Howard County's students, Caplan said the scores don't really say anything about the school system's instruction.

"The SAT is really a predictor of how you will do in college," Caplan said. "We would not use it in the same way we would use a CTBS [Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills] score. It's not designed to be used for that same purpose."

A school-by-school breakdown of SAT scores will be presented to the school board this fall.

Overall, the average score for Maryland seniors increased a point on the verbal section from last year, to 507, and decreased a point on the math portion, to 507.

While holding steady, the nation's average scores continue to lag far behind those of graduates of 30 years ago, when separate state-by-state records were not kept.

Nationally, the average math score this year fell a point, to 511, and the verbal score remained unchanged at 505 for the fourth year in a row. But compared with the national Class of 1969, the nation's average math score is six points behind and the average verbal score is 35 points lower.

"That's not good news," said College Board President Gaston Caperton, a former governor of West Virginia.

Caperton pledged that the College Board will try to do more to work with schools to improve achievement, including creating an Internet site where students can learn more of the analytical reading and math skills required of the SAT.

About 36,000 of Maryland's 1999 high school graduates took the SAT during their junior or senior years -- about 65 percent of the graduating class. While Maryland's scores have remained almost unchanged over the past 10 years, the percentage of seniors taking the SAT has increased 6 percentage points.

Nationally, 43 percent of last spring's seniors took the examination. In some higher-scoring states, fewer than 20 percent of graduates take the SAT. Instead, many college-bound students -- particularly in the Midwest -- take another exam, the ACT.

"A large percentage of our kids do take it, relatively speaking," Caplan said . "You would tend to think that the more kids that take it, the less chance you would have of consistently high scores. I think they work very hard to prepare for it."

Of the 13 states in which 65 percent of graduates took the SAT, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont scored higher than Maryland.

Maryland educators pointed yesterday to several encouraging signs in the state's results, including a slight increase in the number of black students taking the SAT and a four-point increase in the verbal score for black students.

Also, Maryland students who reported being "A+" students improved their verbal and math scores, while scores for "A+" students nationally remained unchanged for verbal and dropped in math.

"As our overall SAT score remains steady, we are seeing some very positive movement in several areas," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "These are indications that our rigorous efforts to improve instruction for all students are producing positive results."

But black students continue to lag far behind the state average on the SAT, with a verbal score of 433 and a math score of 417. The average math score for black students dropped 2 points this year.

Students in Baltimore continued to score far below the state and national averages. The average verbal score this year was 416 -- up 1 point from last year -- and the average math score dropped 6 points to 394.

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