Students match record scores on SAT exam

Composite of 1,084 also was tops in Maryland

Test used by colleges

A school system that `focuses on excellence'

Howard County

August 28, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County high school seniors maintained the district's all-time high performance on the national SAT examination for a second year, and also topped the state with their high composite score of 1,084.

Results released yesterday showed that although last year's seniors dropped 2 points, to 534, on the test's verbal section, they increased their math scores by 2 points, to 550, keeping the average score the same as the class before them - which at the time was the system high.

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke called the overall results "gratifying."

"We've maintained our peak performance for two years in a row and increased the percentage of students taking the test by 3 percent," he said, noting that scores usually drop when participation rises.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun about the county's scores on the SAT incorrectly stated that Howard County topped the state with a high score of 1,084. It should have reported that Howard was tops in the Baltimore region. Montgomery County had a higher composite SAT score of 1,095. The Sun regrets the error.

Howard outperformed most other counties in the region by nearly 40 points (Harford County's results were not immediately available) and outscored the state's and the nation's students. Statewide, students scored an average of 1,020 on the exam - mirroring the nation's composite score. A perfect score on the college entrance exam is 1,600.

Testing officials said Howard's progress - in attracting students to the test and keeping scores high - is notable.

"Anytime a district is able to maintain the same score while increasing the diversity of the people taking the test, I think it's something for the district to be quite proud of and it really is an achievement over time," said Wayne Camara, vice president of the College Board, which administers the national entrance exam many colleges use to predict how students will do their freshman year in college.

State officials said Howard always has had a strong SAT participation rate and are pleased to see the district continuing to excel.

"It's very much a system that focuses on excellence, and this proves it," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "It's probably not unique to Howard, but Howard is certainly a shining example."

The new charge

But O'Rourke said school leaders are charged now with understanding what might have caused the scores of certain schools within the system to drop, or others to have relatively few test-takers.

The composite score for four of the county's 10 high schools increased last year, while one remained the same and five declined. The largest increase in a composite score was 42 points at Atholton High and the largest decrease was at Oakland Mills High - 59 points.

"What's most meaningful to us is our ability to take a look at those results so that we might learn and reflect," O'Rourke said. "The emphasis, as with everything else, is continuous improvement."

Atholton Principal Connie Lewis said the scores caused her to grin "ear-to-ear."

"I knew that the excellence was always there. It's just convincing everybody else, I guess," she said. "But each class has a different personality, and last year's class was an excellent class. Next year's class may go down; they may go up again. We don't know."

The makeup of each school's senior class is something Oakland Mills Principal Marshall Peterson said most people tend not to recognize.

Oakland Mills has achieved the county's goal of increasing the numbers of minority students who take the exam, he said, and many minority students may be the first in their family to attend college, or may not be able to afford an expensive private school.

Unlike students expected to attend prestigious colleges, they may instead choose a college that requires only a composite score in the 900s to enroll and may not repeatedly take the test hoping for a higher score, he said. And many students go on to Howard Community College, which doesn't require an entrance exam such as the SAT.

Family finances

"Mom and Dad's bankroll may determine how high a score I need," Peterson said, noting that more students go on to two- and four-year colleges from Oakland Mills than take the SAT.

Leslie Wilson, the county schools' testing director, said Peterson has been on the phone with central office administrators since the scores were pre-released last week, working to come up with ways to make this year's scores better. One idea is to increase participation in the PSAT program, a less-stressful exam that helps students become familiar with the one that counts.

"There's nothing we can do about last year's scores," Wilson said. "I think for his [Peterson's] population of students, a lot of those students don't necessarily consider themselves college-bound or have those higher goals and expectations. I think we can work with them to say that is not the case."

A close look at the school-by-school scores shows disparities at other schools as well.

Although Glenelg High School, for example, has some of the highest scores in the county (1112), it has far fewer students taking the college entrance exam than other schools.

It's baffling to Principal Linda Wise.

`It's a puzzle'

"It's a puzzle really," she said of the fewer than 80 percent of Glenelg seniors who took the test last year. "We're aware of it and, as a matter of fact, we're working very hard to promote it."

Wise said she even goes so far as to have SAT sign-up sheets at back-to-school nights. That's in addition to the after-school SAT prep classes and regular test promotion throughout the year.

Composite scores

Here are the composite scores for Howard County's high schools:

Atholton -- 1,093

Centennial -- 1,165

Glenelg --1,112

Hammond -- 1,048

Howard -- 1,039

Long Reach -- 1,007

Mount Hebron -- 1,096

Oakland Mills -- 994

River Hill -- 1,130

Wilde Lake -- 1,093

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