SAT Scores Decline in the District

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

SAT stores dropped 30 points in the District with the Class of 2007, reflecting a downward trend nationwide in the two years since the college entrance test was revised and expanded.

Data released by the College Board yesterday showed that scores declined on all three sections of the test -- reading, writing and math -- in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Performance in the District, including at private schools, fell 9 points in reading, 10 points in math and 11 points in writing to a combined 1411, reflecting the second consecutive year of decline.

Maryland's scores fell 13 points overall, and Virginia's dipped five points. Only Loudoun and Arlington counties reported higher scores locally, and a few districts, including Prince George's and Arundel counties, did not release data.

Nationally, the Class of 2007 was the largest and most diverse group of students to take the SAT, which has evolved over the decades from an elite sorting tool into almost a rite of college preparation, the College Board said.

For the first time, an entire state, Maine, reported 100 percent participation in the SAT, which is required of students to promote rigor and college preparation. Baltimore educators pay the fee for high school students to take the test, resulting in near-universal participation but lower scores, district officials say.

Montgomery students took the test in record numbers, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said. The county's performance was "a perfect Simpson's paradox," a statistical scenario in which the success of individual groups reverses when they are combined, he said.

Scores rose for Hispanic and white students in Montgomery and declined for black and Asian students. But the overall county average was down 10 points.

The county average is pulled down, Weast said, by students who are new to college-entrance testing and score low because of poverty and inadequate preparation. Participation on the test reached 79 percent in the county, an all-time high, with black and Hispanic students accounting for three-quarters of the increase.

"Eighty percent of any group taking anything is pretty high," Weast said. "We aren't eliminating students who aren't prepared."

Officials with the College Board, which administers the SAT, said the scores reflect greater participation among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who previously might not have aspired to college, let alone a college-entrance exam.

They dismissed two other factors cited by students and educators: a "fatigue factor" caused by the addition of a third section, writing, to the test, and a declining share of students choosing to take the longer SAT a second and third time to burnish their scores.

"The one thing we can say is, we know that this group of students . . . is slightly more diverse," reflecting populations "that have not been going to college at as high a rate as others," said Wayne J. Camara, College Board vice president for research.

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