SAT scores across Central Massachusetts dip on latest test
Posted October 10
WORCESTER, Mass. — Scores on the latest SAT decreased slightly since last year at high schools across Central Massachusetts, with close to two-thirds of the region's districts posting worse results.
Around half of those schools had more test-takers than a year ago, however, confirming a correlation between more students taking the SAT and weaker scores, several school officials said. Some districts have even begun offering the test during the school week to ensure all high school students - even the ones who might not have prepared for it - are able to take it.
Performance on the most recent SAT, which was administered at local high schools during the 2015-16 school year, varied considerably across the region, with some high schools averaging score increases of as many as 81 points, while others dropped by 100 points or more.
Central Massachusetts' largest district, Worcester, enjoyed a slight increase from last year, with the average combined score inching upward from 1,300 to 1,314. Most importantly, said the district's chief research and accountability officer, David Perda, the number of test-takers remained high at 969, although that total slipped from 982 the year before.
"The main focus here for the district is the number of test-takers," he said, noting the number of students who took the SAT in 2015-16 was still more than 100 more than in 2013-14.
In general, he said, the administration of new superintendent Maureen Binienda is prioritizing college and job readiness, and has introduced several new initiatives toward that goal. Starting this year, for example, all three high school grades below the senior class will be taking the precursor to the SAT, the PSAT - previously it was not generally taken by ninth-graders. The high schools also plan to offer an SAT test-taking day during the school week, as opposed to on the weekend like normal, to ensure more students are able to take it, Mr. Perda said.
The idea of dedicating a school day to the SAT will likely become more common throughout the region, Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche predicted. His school is now in year three of such an arrangement, and had 243 test-takers last year, up from 227 the year before.
"What we were finding with the traditional Saturday (test day) model was that our participation was pretty low," he said.
The side effect of having more students take the test, however, has been that Fitchburg's scores have declined; this past year, for instance, the high school's combined scores dipped from 1,218 to 1,182.
An even more extreme decline occurred at Gardner High School, where the average combined score dropped 126 points last year down to 1,338. The school's principal, Mark Pellegrino, said those results were predictable, however, given Gardner's decision last school year to have an SAT test day during the school week, which led to the number of test-takers increasing from 90 to 115.
"All my students took the test, which is the first time we've ever done that," he said, adding the school's sharp decline in scores might have been exacerbated by a few students in particular. "Looking at the individual scores, there were a few students who clearly didn't take the test seriously."
But Mr. Pellegrino, like Mr. Roche and Mr. Perda, believes simply having students take the test is an important component of getting them ready for college, even as some higher education institutions have begun to downplay the importance of SAT scores.
"To me, it's still an important test," he said, adding he hopes to further embed the SAT's standards in Gardner High's curriculum so that students will be better prepared for it. "We need to do a better job of that for all students."
Across the region, however, slightly more than half of high schools saw decreases in test-takers in 2015-15 compared to the year before. Some of the largest gains in scores were at those high schools.
Some districts managed to achieve large increases in both, however, including Uxbridge High School, which saw an 81-point increase in its average combined score despite having 18 more test-takers. Worcester's South High Community School, another example, posted an average combined score that was 44 points above the school's efforts the year before, with 10 more students taking the test.
Most of the highest average scores were at high schools east of Worcester, including Westboro with 1,768 - a 74-point increase - Algonquin Regional with 1,669, and Shrewsbury with 1,665. The latter two schools had slight decreases in test-takers, while Westboro's total test-takers fell more significantly, from 268 to 225, according to data posted by the state's education department.
According to the College Board, which operates the SAT testing program, the recently released 2015-2016 results only include scores on the old version of the test, which was phased out after this past January. Students who took the SAT after that point took the new version of the exam.