SAT scores decline in North Carolina, nation

Greater participation may explain drop

jstancill@newsobserver.comSeptember 24, 2012 

SAT scores for North Carolina high school seniors slid again this year, following a national decline as greater numbers of students take the college entrance exam.

The combined critical reading and math score for North Carolina students averaged 997 this year, a four point drop from the average score in 2011.

Including the writing portion of the test, the combined score for North Carolina students this year was 1,469, down six points from 1,475 last year. Nationally, the scores declined two points to 1,498 for the combined reading, math and writing components.

In the Triangle’s public schools, the average combined score on reading and math was 1,194 in Chapel Hill-Carrboro; 1,063 in Wake County; 1,044 in Orange County; 999 in Johnston County; 978 in Chatham County; 959 in Franklin County, and 951 in Durham County.

North Carolina’s SAT performance has been on the decline for several years even as the state’s high school graduation rate has inched upward, to just over 80 percent this year. The state has a higher percentage of students who take the SAT than some other states.

The higher participation rate in North Carolina, which this year hit 68 percent, may explain the dip in scores, said State Superintendent June Atkinson.

“Our participation rate of students taking SAT is the largest that we’ve had in our history, so that would be one factor,” she said.

That SAT participation may shift in the future, though. North Carolina began administering the ACT college admissions test to all high school juniors this year. The ACT will be used to judge student progress, college readiness and school performance in North Carolina from now on. However, many students will also take the SAT, which has long been the standard used by admissions offices at the state’s colleges and universities.

Officials at the College Board, which owns and administers the SAT, said a recent decline in scores, especially reading, can be partly attributed to greater socio-economic diversity among the test-taking pool.

“Clearly one component of that is the changing demographics,” said Wayne Camara, vice president of research and development at the College Board. “It’s much more expansive. We have many, many more students in groups for whom English may not be their primary or their first language, who are now having access to the SAT and through the SAT are going to college and succeeding.”

There are other factors at play, College Board officials said. They point mainly to a rigorous curriculum in high school. Students who complete four English courses, three math classes, three natural science courses and three social studies courses – what they call a “core curriculum” – typically do much better on the test, scoring on average 144 points higher on the SAT than students who don’t take as many core classes.

“The value of providing kids with access to rigorous courses and a core curriculum cuts across every group in America,” said Peter Kauffmann, vice president of communications at the College Board. “If kids have access to a rigorous core curriculum, they’re more prepared for college, they score better on the SAT, they have more of a chance to stay in college and graduate from college.”

The College Board, using its own benchmark, said that only 43 percent of college-bound seniors in the United States are actually college ready, according to results of the testing.

But states are ratcheting up the demands on their students. Forty-five states have adopted what’s known as the Common Core State Standards, a whole new take on the curriculum. In North Carolina the new standards went into effect with the start of school this year.

Atkinson said the Common Core will provide students with more focus and more skills to apply what they have learned.

The State Board of Education also increased requirements for high school graduation to include a fourth math course beyond Algebra II. That tougher path could boost SAT scores.

College Board data show North Carolina saw a 7.8 percent increase in the number of Advanced Placement exam test takers, with a 7.2 percent increase in the number of scores high enough to receive college credit.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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