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County's SAT scores top national, state results

September 01, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Washington County's 1999 graduates scored higher in the verbal and math portions of the SATs than they did the previous year even though more students took the test.

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Class of 1999 results released Tuesday by the College Board, which administers the college entrance test, showed the county average rose by 22 points, taking it above the state and national averages.

It is significant that math and verbal scores rose even with more students participating, said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. It's also significant that county scores improved while state and national scores did not, he said.

"We're just tickled to death with that because it doesn't happen very often," Bartlett said Tuesday.

"We haven't seen scores this high in many years," said Jan Keefer, the School Board's testing supervisor.

Average scores typically fall when more students take the test, Bartlett said.

More students taking the test means a wider range of academic ability, which usually lowers the group average.

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In the class of 1999, 53 percent took the SATs, compared to 50 percent the year before. The number of students participating went from 560 of 1,120 in the 1998 school year to 564 of 1,073 in the last school year.

The Washington County Board of Education has set a goal of 55 percent participation, Keefer said.

Washington County's average had not surpassed state and national averages since 1995. It had improved overall but had fallen slightly in some years. The 1997 results showed a four-point drop in math. In 1998, verbal scores dropped by two points.

Bartlett said he expects minor setbacks in the future but continued progress in general. "You can't increase forever," he said. "But I don't believe we are where we can get to."

He said the increase in SAT scores is "an indication of quality teaching."

Seven of the eight high schools in the county showed improved scores. Clear Spring High School showed the most improvement and had the highest average. Its score rose 89 points, from 974 to 1063.

Smithsburg High School's average dropped 35 points to 1055. Washington County Technical High School had the lowest average, 884.

State and national averages have leveled off in the last three years. Maryland's total has been 1014 since 1997. The national score rose 1 point to 1017 in 1998 and fell back to 1016 in '99.

Maryland ranks fifth among the 12 states that have at least a 65 percent participation rate, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

The SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Assessment Test, is a standardized college admissions exam that takes about three hours. It has seven sections: Three math, three verbal and one experimental that is used for research and is not scored.

Students get two scores on the SAT, one for math and one for verbal. Each subject is scored on a scale of 200-800 points. The two combined are the total SAT score.

Most students take the SAT during the winter/spring of their junior year, and some retest in the fall of their senior year.

The College Board results don't reflect results after March of a given year, according to Keefer. If a senior took the SAT after March 1999, that score is not included in the average.

Bartlett said the SAT is a good measure of student ability and overall progress. "It's the fairest benchmark we've got," he said. "It gives us a handle on how we're doing compared to other states."

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