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Overall SAT scores are lower in county

August 28, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County Public Schools' overall SAT scores dropped for the third year in a row, despite a rebound in the math portion of the college entrance exam.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the school system recognizes the problem and is taking steps to improve the scores as well as to encourage more students to take the test.

"We've got to do better. Our kids are competing for jobs. They're competing to get into college," Morgan said.

During the 2001-2002 school year, Washington County high school students scored an average of 1016 on the test, which is four points below the state and national average.

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Math scores hit a four-year high of 520, which is seven points higher than the state average and four points higher than the national average.

But verbal scores continued to drop, hitting a four-year low of 496. That's 11 points below the state average and 8 points below the national average.

School Board President Edward Forrest said the Washington County Board of Education has budgeted an extra $500,000 this school year to beef up instruction in the secondary schools.

"We're just beginning that, but I certainly expect to see results," Forrest said.

Six positions are being added at the high school level to improve instruction, especially in math and English, which are the focus of the SAT, Morgan said.

The school system will pay for every diploma-seeking 10th-grader to take the warm-up test, called the PSAT, at school this spring. Last year about one-third of 10th-graders opted to take the test at their parents' expense, said Patricia Abernathy, deputy superintendent for instruction.

"Hopefully that will give them experience with the test and what rigors to expect from that," Forrest said.

Teachers will use PSAT results to guide students to higher-level courses that might help them improve their scores, Abernathy said.

Teachers also are being trained to offer SAT courses and workshops to juniors and seniors this year.

Similar courses have been offered sporadically in the past, but now they will be marketed more heavily to students, Abernathy said.

"Ultimately the goal is to get more students going to college or feel capable of going to college," Morgan said.

Morgan said she wants to see more students taking the SAT. Just under half took it last year, she said.

Last year, then-School Board President Herbert Hardin said the previous drop in test scores might have been caused by more students taking the test.

But Morgan debunked that myth.

She said SAT scores are largely dependent on a student's course work. Students who take more difficult classes tend to perform better on the test, she said.

In addition to the six new positions, secondary schools gained 10 positions that were transferred from the elementary schools because of shifting enrollment. Elementary enrollment dropped by about 400 students while secondary increased by about the same number, she said.

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