The good news is that more students are taking the scholastic aptitude test, or SAT. The bad news is that scores, for the most part, decreased from last year to this year according to data released by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).
In Warwick, the number of students who took the test (408) increased by 26 from 2010 to 2011. Reading scores stayed level throughout the district at 488, but math and writing scores both saw a decline, the largest being in math (480), which dropped nine points. Writing scores (481) dropped five points.
At Pilgrim, participation increased from 137 to 145. Reading scores (491) increased by 11 points but math (474) dropped by 10 points. Writing scores (472) experienced a minimal decline, dropping only three points. At Toll Gate, participation increased from 133 to 147, while reading (489) dropped five points, and both math (492) and writing (493) each dropped 10 points. At Vets, participation increased slightly from 112 to 116. Reading scores (482) dropped seven points, math (473) dropped eight points, and writing (476) dropped four points.
The problem wasn’t just confined to Warwick; statewide scores dropped three points in reading (482), six points in math (482) and four points in writing (474), while participation increased from 5,718 students to 6,192, which accounts for about 59 percent of seniors in the state’s public high schools.
“Participation rates are a critical measure we track because we want to ensure that more students – particularly our Black and Hispanic students who have been underrepresented – are taking the SATs. The increases in participation are encouraging,” Deborah A. Gist, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a press release. “We will continue to work relentlessly on the implementation of our plan, Transforming Education in Rhode Island, to raise student academic achievement across the state.”
According to RIDE, participation among Black students increased by 6.1 percent and participation among Hispanic students increased by 12.1 percent. While participation rates may have increased, scores dropped throughout New England, and across the country.
“Regionally, for reading, math and writing, all New England states (with the exception of Main) had significant decreases in scores. This trend was also reflected nationally, where scores decreased in reading, math and writing,” the press release said. “Over the past five years, Rhode Island SAT scores have declined by 1 point in reading, 7 points in mathematics and 4 points in writing. Rhode Island scores remain the lowest in New England, except Maine, which tests all high school seniors.”
Although declining SAT scores were experienced nationwide, here at home administrators said they felt scores dropped because today’s seniors have too much on their plate.
“There’s so much on the table for students these days; it’s not like it was years ago when I was in school,” said Toll Gate Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz. “I graduated Ivy League but I don’t know how I could get through high school [today].”
One of the new features seniors must complete is the graduation by proficiency senior project, which includes mentor hours, a research paper and an oral presentation. Many students begin their senior project while in their junior year, and a significant portion of the senior year is spent on it.
“There’s been a lot of focus on research [papers] and oral presentations with the senior project,” said Vets Principal Gerry Habershaw. “[And] there’s such a focus on NECAP [New England Common Assessment Program]. So much attention is paid to that because the schools are rated on that, which you hope would carry over to SATs.”
Chrabaszcz said Toll Gate needs to improve and he would like to see better SAT scores, but he said he was extremely proud that the school was ranked 5th in statewide NECAP scores.
“Both Pilgrim and Toll Gate made great strides in NECAP. We had a 90 percent in English,” he said. “My hope is that with increased NECAP scores, we will increase other test scores as students learn how to take tests.”
Chrabaszcz said more and more students are applying to junior colleges and need good SAT scores.
“We need to work on it, but it’s good to see more students are taking it,” he said, adding that Toll Gate offers SAT prep courses.
While Habershaw agreed that today’s seniors have a lot to deal with, he said part of the problem is education is constantly in a state of reform.
“We’re in the middle of reform right now with graduation by proficiency with Commissioner Gist,” he said. “We never get focused on one thing and get through something.”
Habershaw said it seems like there’s always something new confronting educators.
“Everything seems to be a reaction and it leads to some sort of reform. We always seem to be in turmoil, which concerns me,” he said.
Habershaw said he thought it was a good trend that more students are taking the SAT to get into college but said not every kid is a college-type student.
“We try to push some students to the career center because they won’t go to college,” he said.
Habershaw said measures are being taken to help improve scores, such as reviewing and revamping the math curriculum, but he hopes the decline in scores doesn’t bring about further reforms.
“We need to stay focused on one thing; there are too many outside influences with all the reforms,” he said. “It’s not a good direction for education to be going.”
A list of scores broken down by district as well as by school can be found on the RIDE website at www.ride.ri.gov.