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County's seniors improve SAT scores

September 02, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Washington County students showed dramatic improvement on the math portion of the SAT this year, topping statewide averages.

Half of county seniors took the Scholastic Assessment Test this year, scoring an average of 511 in math. That was 10 points higher than the previous year's math average and better than the Maryland average of 508.

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"We're pretty proud of that," said Jan Keefer, supervisor of assessment, who presented the scores to the Washington County Board of Education Tuesday.

The average verbal score for the county dropped slightly, from 500 to 498.

The positive math scores were released on the heels of a statewide report last week that suggested county graduates are not as well prepared for college math as are other public school students in Maryland.

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Forty-one percent of Washington County's college-bound students in 1996 had to take remedial math as freshmen, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which tracked 481 students who went to Maryland colleges and universities that fall.

But school administrators said the commission's report isn't fair because each college sets its own standards for which students need to take remedial classes.

"Until there's a common exam used by colleges across the state, it's meaningless," said board member Doris J. Nipps.

The year of the study, 19 colleges across the state used 17 different tests, said Robert Carson, Hagerstown Community College math coordinator.

Today, most colleges use one of two different tests. Eventually those will be comparable, he said.

Students can opt out of the placement test if they get at least 550 on the math portion of the SAT, he said.

The SAT is a better way to compare student achievement among different school districts, said Theresa Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction.

The only thing that could distort SAT results is the number of students taking the test.

Generally, as more students take the test the scores go down, Keefer said.

"You get a wider range of abilities and academic backgrounds," she said.

However, Washington County's math scores went up even though more students took the test this year, she said.

Last year, 49 percent of seniors took the test and this year it was 50 percent, she said.

After math SAT scores dropped last year, administrators renewed their efforts in the high schools, said Leslie Hobbs, supervisor of secondary mathematics.

"It was like we put SAT on the front burner," she said.

During the 1997-98 school year, Hobbs gave high school math teachers sample SAT questions to work into their lessons.

Also, Smithsburg High School offered the first-ever SAT preparation course taught jointly by math and English teachers, Hobbs said.

In the past, schools offered after-school practice only.

"It didn't seem to be a high priority for students when they have other things after school," Hobbs said.

This year, the SAT course is being offered at North High and South High in addition to Smithsburg, she said.

Smithsburg High School's average math score of 552 was the highest of any high school in the county in the last five years, Keefer said.

Some other highlights of the SAT report:

- 46 percent of students taking the test said their parents never pursued education beyond a high school education.

- 62 percent of students taking the test said they planned to get bachelor's or master's degrees. Another 15 percent were pursuing a doctorate.

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