More minority students take SAT

Asians had the largest increase in participation in county schools for '06

September 03, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

Despite the recent news that last year's seniors saw the biggest dip in SAT scores in decades, Carroll school officials latched onto a silver lining in the results: impressive gains locally in the numbers of students, particularly among minorities, taking the college entrance exam.

"I'm encouraged by the growth in participation rates, regardless of whether the scores are up or down a few points," said Gregory Bricca, the school system's director of research and accountability.

Along with the push to increase student enrollment in advanced placement courses to improve their chances of future success, schools officials in Carroll have long stressed the importance of taking the SAT and its precursor, the Preliminary SAT, commonly known as the PSAT.

"The PSAT provides a picture of what students' strengths and weaknesses are," Bricca said. "It gives us a year to a year and a half prior to the SAT, where we can look at upping the rigor of a particular student's courses or going into a prep program. It can also, hopefully, encourage students and raise [SAT] scores."

More minority students in Carroll took the SAT this year when compared with last year, according to College Board results. Participation among Asian students was up 27 percentage points, from 58 percent last year to 85 percent this year.

Among African-American students, the rate was up 11 percentage points (from 27 percent last year to 38 percent this year). Hispanics, likewise, saw an increase in test takers (from 45 percent last year to 54 percent this year).

Participation among white students also saw a double-digit jump, from 52 percent last year to 66 percent last year, according to the College Board.

Bricca said he anticipates the minority participation rate will continue to grow because this school year is the first that the school system will pay for all 10th graders to take the PSAT.

The hope is that students who might not have initially considered themselves college-bound and not taken the test will take it because it's free, Bricca said.

In a report to the board last spring, Lorraine Fulton, the school system's assistant superintendent of instruction, wrote, "It is believed by the principals and teachers that January of the junior year [when students receive results from the fall PSAT] is too late to offer the opportunity for needed intervention strategies" to help students prepare for the SAT.

A review of national and Carroll County test results shows that students who take the PSAT in both the 10th and the 11th grades score "significantly higher" on the SAT than students who take the PSAT once or never, according to Fulton's report.

"The national data suggest that the majority of test takers for the PSAT were sophomores and therefore had more time to develop their skills in preparation for the SAT and other college entrance exams," she wrote.

Meanwhile, a partnership between local middle schools and the College Board -- the nonprofit organization that administers the exams -- is intended to help students figure out which courses will best prepare them for the tests.

Generally, students take the PSAT during the fall of their junior year. The standardized test serves as a practice run for the SAT Reasoning Test, which colleges use to gauge a student's aptitude. Most students take the SAT during the latter portion of their junior year and often again during the fall of their senior year.

The 130-minute PSAT exam, which measures critical reading, math problem solving and writing skills, also is used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which gives students the chance to apply for National Merit scholarships.

Last year's seniors were the first to take the revamped SAT, which includes a new writing section in addition to critical reading and math sections. With a testing time of 3 hours, 45 minutes, the new exam is 45 minutes longer than the previous test.

While seniors in Carroll's Class of 2006 earned scores that outpaced state and national averages on all three portions of the exam, they yielded overall lower scores across the county's seven high schools than last year's batch. Scores were down by 6 percentage points on the reading and 9 points lower on the math portion.

Carroll's minority students saw large gains in their scores, but Bricca was cautiously optimistic about the results among the subgroups of African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and American Indians because the groups are too small to yield statistically meaningful conclusions.

For example, students who identified themselves as "Other Hispanic, Latino or Latin American," saw a 101-point gain on the math portion of the exam from last year, while white students saw an 8-point drop on the same section of the test. But such a relatively small number of "Other Hispanic, Latino or Latin American" -- 16 in all -- took the exam, compared to 1,190 white students, that it's difficult to draw conclusions from the results.

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