Schools focus on SAT results

Average combined scores up slightly countywide

Officials seek to extend gains

Big increases or declines found on some campuses

Anne Arundel

September 12, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel school administrators, though proud of the gains students made on the SAT during the last school year, want to sustain those gains over a longer period with strategies such as preparation courses and literacy programs.

The average scores at some high schools varied by more than 35 points from last school year. In addition to maintaining gains or recovering from losses, principals and staffs are gearing up for changes the College Board, which oversees the SAT, will roll out in the spring.

Countywide, average combined scores for students who took the college-entrance exam during the last school year increased four points to 1,059 - the highest in 10 years.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he was happy with the results released late last month, but he cautioned about giving them too much weight.

"One-year-to-another comparisons are a bit dangerous," he said. "From year to year, you might see those swings. ... Over time, you want to see it moving up."

The SAT assesses math and verbal abilities, and the new version of the test, to be taken by students starting in the spring, will include a portion intended to weigh writing skills, along with higher-level algebra.

All students will need high-level reading and math ability as well as effective writing skills, said Jonathan Brice, the school system's director of program planning.

"We are fast approaching the point where there is no differentiation between how we prepare students who are going to college and students who want to enter the world of work," Brice said.

As part of the push toward more rigorous course work, this year ninth-, 10th- and 11th- graders at county schools all will take the PSAT. Counselors say the test can help them identify students who might be ready for Advanced Placement courses.

Principals at the county's individual high schools, meanwhile, are taking a detailed look at their SAT scores.

Ups and downs

About 55 percent of seniors took the SAT test at Southern High School in Harwood, said Jason Dykstra, who is in his first year as Southern's principal. "We're looking to increase that, as well as maintain if not improve performance," he said.

Southern's average scores increased sharply to a combined 1,096. Average verbal scores there shot up 23 points, and average mathematics scores gained 14 points.

But scores at Arundel High School in Gambrills fell by almost as many points - hitting 1,014 this year as math scores decreased 16 points and verbal scores 22 points. The scores came as a shock to school officials because 10th-graders there had performed well on the reading component of the Maryland School Assessment tests. Nearly 73 percent reached basic or proficient levels on that exam.

"We have a very able population, but that's not reflected in our scores," said Arundel Principal Sharon Stratton. "It was a little pop to my bubble when I looked at the SAT."

Literacy program

Given the scores and the changes to the test, staff at the school will start a literacy program to encourage students to read 25 books this year, she said. They will earn merit for leisure reading such as magazines and other materials. And teachers have been asked to assign more outside reading.

"We've got to get kids reading other things, other than the textbook," Stratton said.

At both schools, more students are taking elective SAT prep courses.

Enrollment in those courses at Southern has quadrupled, Dykstra said, and the verbal component will address the changes to the test.

At Arundel, the number of sections of the prep course has increased from one to six this year, Stratton said. That school also will pay for a bus so students can stay after school for additional review.

Stratton agreed that SAT preparation helps improve performance on other tests.

"If you're teaching one, you're teaching preparation for all of it," she said.

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