SAT gap widens between groups

Students who took rigorous courses scored higher again

September 08, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The gap widened this year between the SAT scores of Carroll students who took rigorous courses and those who did not, according to school administrators, who released county and school averages yesterday for the graduating classes of 1999.

The countywide average SAT score for 1999 dropped five points from last year. That could be caused by any of "15 or 20" reasons -- including pure chance, said Dorothy Mangle, assistant superintendent.

The combined average for the verbal and math portions of the college aptitude test is 1038. As in the past, county students scored higher than the state average -- 1014 -- and the national average -- 1016.

Statewide average SAT scores were released last week.

Carroll students who took a rigorous college-prep sequence of courses scored far higher. Their combined average was 1094, compared to 903 for students who did not complete all those courses.

Last year, students who took those courses scored an average of 1104; those who did not complete that sequence averaged 912.

"The gap is widening," Mangle said.

The sequence of courses includes math and English. The math sequence begins with algebra in ninth grade, then geometry, algebra II and introductory analysis in subsequent years. The English sequence begins with English I and II, then surveys of American literature and British literature.

Mangle said counselors and administrators continually tell parents and students that if they are interested in going to college, those are the courses they need to take. The other key to doing well on the SAT is to read, she said.

"The one thing that promotes your success is independent reading -- that you have been someone who historically chose to read on a wide variety of topics," Mangle said. "If it's also promoted by the parents, it almost comes with a guarantee."

But Mangle said the 5-point drop in the combined countywide average from last year is insignificant.

"It would be more unusual if they stayed the same," Mangle said. "If they're going to go up, they're going to go down."

Individual school scores show a two-year decline in Westminster's average score, which had often alternated with South Carroll High School in having the highest averages in the county, but now ties for the lowest average in the county.

South Carroll had the highest school average of 1047 this year. North Carroll had an average of 1042. Liberty High School's average was 1041. Westminster and Francis Scott Key high schools each had an average of 1029.

Mangle and Greg Eckles, director of secondary education, said the trend in the SAT scores was among the reasons for starting the freshman seminars this year at Westminster High School. The seminars allow students to hone study skills, plan their four-year curriculum and get advice in surviving a large school setting.

Westminster's average in 1996 was 1050. In 1997, it was 1057. Last year, it was 1047. However, a higher percentage of students are taking the SAT at that school, and Mangle said that often can bring down the average.

Mangle said that while some states and schools encourage only college-bound students to take the SAT, Carroll encourages anyone who wants to take the test to do so, and 59 percent of last year's graduating class took it.

Administrators said the SAT scope is too narrow to use as an overall measure of a high school's performance, because it is designed to measure the potential for success in college. Mangle said high schools have a broader focus that includes preparing some students for the world of work or other forms of post-secondary education.

But except for the state's functional tests -- which measure the most basic math, writing and citizenship skills and knowledge -- the SAT is the only test widely taken by high school students, said Michael Perich, supervisor of continuous improvement for Carroll schools.

Next year, the state will begin sample testing of a series of new tests designed eventually to be required for students to get a diploma in Maryland. Carroll has volunteered to be among the counties that will give the test to its students in a pilot program. The state has not chosen the counties, Mangle said.

Pub Date: 9/08/99

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