SAT scores improve slightly with Class of 2004

State's average equals nation's

participation reaches 68 percent

September 01, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Maryland's high school Class of 2004 performed slightly better on the SAT than last year's seniors, and the state as a whole made more gains on the college-entrance exam than the rest of the nation.

Scores in the Baltimore region were a mixed bag. They increased slightly among the struggling city schools and in higher-performing Anne Arundel and Howard counties, but dropped in Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties, according to results released yesterday by school officials.

Except for the city and Harford County, the region's school systems posted scores above the state and national average, both 1026 on a 1600-point scale.

Maryland's average math score stayed the same as last year, 515, and its verbal score increased by two points to 511. The national average did not change from last year to this year.

Students in Howard scored an average of 1097, a one-point jump from the previous year. But Howard fell behind Montgomery County, which had an average of 1102.

Montgomery officials rejoiced about breaking the 1100-point barrier and pointed out that they did it while testing 80 percent of high school seniors, a higher percentage than the rest of the state.

Although the state average was equal to the national average, Maryland tests a larger percentage of its students than most states. About 41,000 students who graduated in 2004, or 68 percent of the graduating class, took the SAT as a result of local and state efforts to encourage more youngsters to aim for college, state education officials said. Nationwide, 48 percent of seniors took the test.

"We have states that only have 5 percent of their kids taking these tests," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "It isn't just the score, it's the participation rate."

More minority students took the SAT than in past years. Hispanic student participation rose by 14.6 percent statewide, and African-American participation went up by 9 percent. But Grasmick said the scores of some minority groups and special-education students continue to lag.

In Baltimore, the average SAT score was 803, a two-point increase. The average verbal score in city schools was 403, a two-point drop from the previous year. But the average math score went up four points to 400.

School officials said the slight rise in scores is significant because they've increased SAT participation among seniors to nearly 54 percent, about 5 percentage points more than last year.

"When you have more students taking it, the normal trend is to see a dip" because of varying abilities among students, said Frank DeStefano, the city's director of high schools.

Western High School's principal, Landa McLaurin, blamed a lack of funding and larger numbers of test-takers at her school for a drop in scores. The school's average score has been dropping since 2002, when its staff was reduced for budget reasons and Western could not accommodate all students who wished to take SAT-preparation classes, she said.

The Baltimore County school system's average score dropped seven points, to 1027. The county's average verbal score was 509, and the math score was 518. Participation increased slightly, to 51 percent.

School officials attributed the increase in test-takers to the elimination of low-level classes and the system's efforts to have more students take challenging classes, the SAT and Advanced Placement exams. School officials offered no explanation for the decrease in scores.

"We have worked hard to make academic opportunity available to more of our students," Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said in a statement. "The SAT results this year show that the message is getting through. More of our students are better prepared for higher education than ever before."

Since 2000, Baltimore County's overall SAT score has risen by 30 points.

In Harford County, students averaged 1020, a one-point drop from a year ago. The average math score was 512, two points lower than previously, and the verbal score rose one point to 508. School officials declined to comment on the decline, saying they need time to break down and review the data.

Anne Arundel County students' average score increased by four points to reach 1059. Their average verbal score was 523, up three points, and math scores increased by one point, to 536. But the county saw a drop in the percentage of test-takers. About 51 percent of seniors took the test, a drop of four percentage points from last year's class.

Carroll County students posted an average SAT score of 1037, a 12-point drop from last year, but stayed 11 points above the state and national averages.

Carroll and Howard counties were the only systems in the region to release racial breakdowns of their scores yesterday.

Carroll Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said he was encouraged to see the gap narrowing among certain groups of students, particularly African-American test-takers, who scored an average of 935, a 72-point gain over last year.

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