October 30, 2014
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Warwick SAT scores up, but work needs to be done, says Mullen

There’s a story in the numbers for Dennis Mullen, Warwick director of secondary education – Warwick high school students performed better than the state mean scores in the SATs, which means we’re on the right track, but there is room for improvement.

On the SAT scale of 200 to 800, Rhode Island public school seniors had a mean score of 477 in critical reading (down 5 points from 2011), 480 in math (down 2 points) and 470 in writing (down 4 points). The mean scores for all public school students nationwide were 491 in reading (down 2 points), 505 in math (down 1 point) and 481 in writing (down 1 point).

Looking at the numbers, Mullen concludes, “In some ways we ran contrary to the national trend.”

That’s a good thing.

Nationally, scores on the tests administered by the College Board tended to be flat or down. Many of the Warwick scores, however, were up slightly.

Mullen points to the mean score in critical reading, where Vets went from 489 to 495. At Pilgrim, the mean score in critical reading went from 480 to 486.

“I think we could do better with how the curriculum is aligned with the SATs,” Mullen said.

One means would be to improve student exposure to the test by giving them samples released by the College Board. Mullen also suggests students should have greater opportunity to take advanced programs and honor courses as well as teaching them more learning skills.

He called the SAT scores “a call to action to expand rigor for more of our kids.”

The numbers of students taking the test have an impact on the mean scores, with the scores generally improving as the number of test takers drop.

On a state level, participation for SAT increased by 1 percentage point, to 65 percent, among last year’s seniors, continuing a 10-year trend of rising participation rates among Rhode Island public school students, according to a report the College Board released Sept. 24.

Vets’ scores were among the highest of the city’s three high schools. Fewer Vets students took the tests than at Pilgrim and Toll Gate. Also, the number of test takers – 94 – was down from 112 the year before. At Pilgrim, the number went from 137 to 155 and at Toll Gate it increased from 133 to 139.

“I’m not satisfied with any of them,” Mullen said, although he added, “Scores went up across the board.”

There isn’t a parallel to NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) scores; the test students are required to take in third grade. The trend there, said Mullen, shows the district “is in trouble” with mathematics and that greater emphasis has been placed on reading. The state tests are being administered over the next three weeks and, for the first time, will determine whether 11th graders graduate.

“It’s high stakes,” said Mullen.

In order to engage students and emphasize the importance of the tests, rallies have been held at some schools and there have been sessions devoted to preparing students for them.

Students thinking of continuing their education, on the other hand, take SATs. Mullen said students are encouraged to take the SATs, however, there is an overall “lackadaisical attitude on the part of students.” He doesn’t offer an answer for this lack of motivation, yet feels the role of family income on success has generally been overlooked.

Families with means can afford to have their children tutored. In situations where both parents are working, and some are working two jobs, priorities are different.

“The whole family … the income, the business, it’s so important,” he said.

As daunting as improving scores and the numbers of students taking the SATs is, Mullen says it’s important.

“It’s a call to action to expand rigor for more of our kids,” he said.


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