SAT scores fall both locally and statewide
By Sarah Campbell
Local school systems followed a national and state trend of declining SAT scores this year, according to data released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System's average combined score of math, critical reading and writing sections fell by 27 points from 1,422 to 1,395.
"While the class of 2012 graduates scored lower overall than the previous class, educators cannot point to any specific cause," Colby Cochran, the district's director of assessment and accountability, wrote in an email to the Post. "The SAT score is but one single test score that is influenced by a myriad of variables, some of which occur over time."
There was a larger decline in the Kannapolis City school district by 32 points to 1,350. A.L. Brown is the only high school in that system.
Statewide, the average is 1,469, down by six points from last year. The dip was smaller nationally by two points to 1,498.
Students at Gray Stone Day School, a charter school based on the campus of Pfeiffer University, continue to score higher than both the state and national average.
The school saw a large spike of 44 points from 1,661 to 1,705 with 97 percent of students taking the test.
The Rowan County Early College, which had its first graduating class in May, reported scores for the first time this year. Students scored an average of 1,432.
The SAT report reflects the last test score received by a student who graduated in June 2012, Cochran said.
Overall, the amount of students taking the test fell by 2 percent for both Rowan and Kannapolis.
North Rowan had the largest decline in SAT scores for Rowan County at 95 points, down from 1,370 to 1,275, the lowest average in the district.
Math scores fell 35 points to 445, while reading and writing scores both fell by 30 points, down to 418 and 412, respectively.
The school also had the lowest participation rate at 43 percent.
Principal Darrell McDowell said it's not unusual for the scores to fluctuate, a trend he's seen play out in his 32 years in education.
"The SAT is hard to measure from year to year," he said. "There are just so many variables, it's hard to put a finger on it."
McDowell said the school has put less focus on the SAT in recent years as it has undergone a transformation to improve overall academic performance.
"We've got a lot of things going in the right direction," he said. "We're a school of high growth this year, we met 100 percent of our Annual Measurable Objectives, we're moving forward."
McDowell believes the school's socioeconomic makeup could point to why it has lower scores. Nearly 69 percent of students were considered economically-disadvantaged last year, the highest rate in the district.
"Some of them come from situations where it's not valued to do well on the SAT," he said. "They are concentrating on passing classes …."
McDowell said more students are opting out of the SAT, now that the state requires juniors to take the ACT, a curriculum-based measure of college readiness that tests academic achievement in English, math, reading, science and writing. The test can oftentimes be submitted to colleges and universities in lieu of the SAT.
"We focus more heavily on the ACT, our counselors are trained on the ACT," he said. "So, a lot of our kids score higher on the ACT than the SAT."
But McDowell said he'd like to put some initiatives in place to boost SAT scores in the future.
"We're looking at the possibly of maybe adding an SAT course," he said.
Students at the school can currently self-tutor using the computer program Study Island, but McDowell said teachers and counselors can work to push more students to utilize that technology.
Salisbury High School also saw a large dip in average SAT scores by 87 points down to 1,393.
The school's largest decline was by 33 points in reading from 491 to 458. Math scores fell by 31 points to 482 and writing scores dipped by 23 points to 453.
But Salisbury High had the largest participation rate in the district at 66 percent.
Average combined scores dropped by 33 points for both East and South, with each seeing a nine-point dip in writing scores.
The largest decrease for both schools was in math. East saw an 11 point decline to 503 and South fell 19 points to 488.
But East and South boast the highest combined scores in the district at 1,440 and 1,411, respectively.
Forty-five percent of seniors took the test at South, while 54 percent at East participated.
Combined average scores fell by 32 points at A.L. Brown from 1382 to 1350, down four in math, 11 in reading and 17 in writing. The participation rate was 53 percent.
With five of Rowan-Salisbury's six traditional schools seeing a drop in writing scores, Cochran said the district will focus on improving that skill.
"Being able to take a position and support it with logical reasoning and examples taken from prior reading, studies, experiences, and observations is a necessary skill for the 21st Century learner," he wrote in an email to the Post. "Writing is a critical skill as students will have to construct their own responses to some questions that will appear on the new assessments that will be administered this year for the first time in North Carolina."
Cochran said the district also continues to make students aware of what they will be expected to know and the types of skills and abilities that will be measured through college and career readiness assessments.
"Teachers are encouraged to incorporate SAT and ACT type questions into their ongoing classroom assessments and test," he wrote.
Bucking trends, scores increase
Carson and West Rowan high schools bucked the declining trend, with students in the class of 2012 scoring higher than their peers from the previous year.
Carson saw an increase in all three subject areas. Scores rose four points in math to 487, six in reading to 472 and two in writing to 447.
The school had a participation rate of 47 percent.
Carson Principal Kelly Withers said the school has worked with students through its Smart Testing Results in Performance Enhanced Scores program during the school day.
"This program was designed by our guidance department to provide logistical testing tips as well as instruction by math and English teachers in content specific strategies, " she said.
A nine point increase in reading scores to 464 helped West Rowan's scores increase overall. Scores fell by three points in math to 468 and two points in writing to 426.
Fifty-six percent of the school's students took the exam.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.