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Despite Rise In State SAT Scores, Officials Say Numbers Point To Achievement Gap

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Officials say while SAT scores are on the rise in North Carolina, there is still a huge achievement gap. One school district has made closing the gap a priority. This year, black students in Chapel Hill scored an average of 988 on the SATs, which is almost 150 points above the state average for black students. School officials say their strategy is simple -- get students to focus on college early and then show them how to get there.

For some students at East Chapel Hill High School, college is changing from a dream into a reality.

"It might not be something they think is an achievable goal for them. We all think they can do anything they want to if they really want to," teacher Marjon Grant said.

Shari Manning scored 1110 on the SAT and said she wants to go to Spellman College. For five years, she has been in a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), which helps students organize, study and apply to colleges.

"It helped me find out what I was interested in, and it helped me find out what I wanted to do with my life," she said.

Chapel Hill credits AVID with helping close the acheivement gap between black and white students. Students take pre-SATs to prepare them for the real thing.

"I know just taking the PSAT once has given me a view and outlook on what it's going to be like, so it's not as stressful to me as I think it is to other kids," student Mark Searcy said.

"We've known for quite awhile there's a gap between minority students and white students," said Marvin Pittman, of the N.C. Division of School Improvement.

North Carolina education officials are concerned the most recent SAT scores show no improvement. They say solutions include programs like AVID which encourage students to test their limits.

"What we have to do in North Carolina is make sure minority students are in the most challenging courses possible," Pittman said.

According to statewide figures, white students averaged 1046 on the SAT. Asian-Americans averaged 1025, followed by Hispanics at 961. Black students averaged 839.

In December, a commission studying the achievement gap made 11 recommendations to the state. The consensus was to push the low-performing students out of their comfort zone and put them into challenging classes and then give them support to help them achieve.

Race is not the only possible factor in the achievement gap.

Children in families with income between $50,000 to $60,000 averaged 991 points. Children in families with income between $70,000 to $80,000 averaged 1024 points. If parents make more than $100,000, their children's SAT average tops 1100.

North Carolina's four lowest scoring counties are also among the state's seven poorest. Hoke County, which is at the center of the poor schools lawsuit, had the eighth lowest scores in North Carolina.


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