SAT results in Carroll, Balto. Co. show significant improvement

In Md. as a whole, scores in math go up, verbal down

August 28, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

SAT scores in Carroll and Baltimore counties rose significantly this year, while college-bound students across Maryland followed a national trend: They improved their math scores and turned in a mediocre performance on the verbal portion of the national test.

Carroll County seniors scored 18 points higher overall on the 2002 SAT, while Baltimore County's scores advanced 16 points, giving the county a two-year gain of 40 points.

Average Maryland scores increased by three points in math, from 510 to 513, while verbal scores declined by a point, to 507. Again, Maryland was America in miniature: National verbal scores for the 1.3 million seniors who took the test declined by two points, to 504, while mathematics scores increased by two points, to 516.

Each of the two parts of the test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said Maryland's scores were "very, very significant," given the state's high "participation rate" on the test. Nearly two-thirds of Maryland seniors took the SAT, while only 4 percent took it in North Dakota, which had among the nation's highest SAT scores. In a ranking of states where more than two-thirds of seniors took the test in 2002, Maryland's scores would be fourth from the top, Grasmick said.

In Carroll County, where verbal scores rose from 511 last year to 516 this year and math scores rose from 526 last year to 539 this year, officials attributed the success to training for math teachers and efforts to put more rigor in the curriculum.

In Baltimore County, Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said, "We're doing what we said we would do." That included focusing on higher-level thinking skills and encouraging more students to take tougher courses.

For the past two years, the Baltimore County system has partnered with the College Board, which administers the SAT, to boost scores, but Paul Mazza, director of assessment, testing and research, said the district was not teaching for the test.

"We're teaching the verbal and math skills, and the SATs happen to test for that," he said. The county's verbal scores increased from 506 to 513, while average math scores jumped from 515 to 524.

Some successful districts have used old SAT tests to diagnose students' strengths and weaknesses.

"We have our students take the old tests and then say, `These are the kinds of questions you missed and here's what to do about it,'" said Ann Chafin, director of research and assessment in Charles County, where SAT scores rose 10 points in 2002 and 60 points over three years.

Scores in other Central Maryland districts hardly budged. Math results in Anne Arundel dipped from 535 to 533, while verbal scores dropped from 517 to 515. Howard County scores, highest in the region and among the highest in the state, dropped two points to 534 on the verbal section of the exam and gained two points to 550 in math.

Harford math scores were unchanged at 513, and average verbal scores declined two points to 507. Baltimore City's math score of 393 was unchanged, while its verbal score slipped three points to 402.

Baltimore schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo said the good news was that the number of children who took the test increased by more than 100. Partnerships with the College Board and CollegeBound Foundation and more emphasis on college-preparatory classes should lead to "much more aggressive improvement," she said.

State and national experts said contrasting math and verbal scores can be explained by looking at the greater emphasis schools are giving to advanced math. Forty-five percent of this year's college-bound seniors took precalculus in high school, up from 33 percent just a decade ago. Meanwhile, participation in high school composition work has declined significantly, and grammar is no longer stressed in many schools.

"My own unscientific assessment," said Grasmick, "is that that there's more TV watching, less reading going on and fewer quality linguistic models. You don't hear sloppy language being corrected in schools these days, as it was when I was a student ... many years ago."

Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, Johnathon E. Briggs, Stephen Kiehl, Jennifer McMenamin, Jonathan D. Rockoff and Tanika White contributed to this article.

SAT scores

Maryland

2001: Verbal - 508; Math - 510 2002: Verbal - 507; Math - 513

Anne Arundel County

2001: Verbal - 517; Math - 535 2002: Verbal - 515; Math - 533

Baltimore City

2001: Verbal - 405; Math - 393 2002:Verbal - 402; Math - 393

Baltimore County

2001: Verbal - 506; Math - 515 2002: Verbal - 513; Math - 524

Carroll County

2001: Verbal - 511; Math - 526 2002: Verbal - 516; Math - 539

Harford County

2001: Verbal - 509; Math - 513 2002: Verbal - 507; Math - 513

Howard County

2001: Verbal - 536; Math - 548 2002:Verbal - 534: Math - 550

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