SAT scores in the state hold steady

Md. results reflect the national figures during past 10 years

`Very positive movement'

But seniors far behind their counterparts in U.S. of 30 years ago

September 01, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The latest round of SAT scores shows that Maryland high school graduates -- and their counterparts across the nation -- are performing about the same as 10 years ago.

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 data released yesterday by the College Board.

Overall, the average score for Maryland seniors increased one point this year from 1998 on the verbal portion of the test to 507 and decreased one 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.

The SAT is typically taken by college-bound students and is used in the college admissions process as an indicator of how well students will do in their first year. Each portion of the test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800.

Four of the six Baltimore-area school systems released their students' average scores yesterday:

Baltimore City students continued to score far below the state and national averages. The average verbal score in 1999 was 416 -- up one point from 1998 -- and the average math score dropped six points to 394. But 126 more of the city's 1999 high school seniors took the examination than the previous year, for a total of 1,992 students.

In Baltimore County, officials celebrated a five-point gain in the average verbal score -- to 504 -- and a three-point increase in the average math score, also to 504. About 55 percent of the county's seniors took the test, and the gains ended a five-year decline in county SAT scores. "Once again we see that hard work and focus are paying off for our students," said Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione.

Howard County students continued to score the highest in the area. Officials said they were not troubled by a slight decline in their system's scores -- down one point in verbal, to 534, and down two points in math, to 547. "A couple of points back and forth are to be expected," said Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "We look over a period of years. If we were to see a consistent drop that would be a reason for concern."

Anne Arundel County officials pointed to a steady improvement in the system's scores. In the past five years, Anne Arundel graduates' average verbal scores increased 11 points to 519, and their average math score increased 15 points to 532. "The most recent SAT scores reaffirm my belief that our instructional efforts are helping to prepare our young people for success in college and beyond," said Anne Arundel Superintendent Carol S. Parham.

School officials in Carroll and Harford counties refused to release their systems' SAT scores.

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.

However, 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, the 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 a Web site to help students learn more of the analytical reading and math skills required by 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 exam. 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 examination, the ACT.

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

Maryland educators pointed 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 having A+ grades 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 Maryland students' scores 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 two points this year.

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