SAT Scores Down in Richland 2

RICHLAND – For the fourth consecutive year, Richland 2 schools’ composite SAT scores for graduating seniors declined. While a 7-point drop announced last week is less dramatic than in recent years, it brings the total slide for the four-year period to 77 points. Of the District’s five high schools, Blythewood High School showed the greatest improvement (51 points) and had the largest percentage of seniors (77 percent) taking the test. Westwood High School had the lowest percentage of seniors (37 percent) taking the test and the lowest composite score of 1,203.

SAT provides scores for graduating seniors, primarily for those headed toward higher education, in three areas: Critical Reading, Math and Writing with each of the three areas worth 800 points for a perfect score of 2400. The 2013 composite score for public schools nationally was 1,474, down three points. South Carolina public school scores were up one point at 1,423.

Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm told The Voice that several factors have contributed to Richland 2’s decline – a much higher percentage of students taking the SAT test, transience (20 percent turnover every two years) and increasing poverty among students. The SAT, she said, is based on cumulative knowledge. “Understanding the factors and not allowing them to become excuses has been important as the District laid out a pro-active plan to tackle declining test scores,” said Hamm.

“The drop in SAT scores was due mainly to a drop in math scores – also reflected in elementary and middle school testing results earlier this year,” she said. “That focus in middle school math, particularly algebra, is important for improving SAT scores and just as important for increased academic achievements for all the district’s students.”

While Blythewood High School was the second highest scoring high school in the District with a composite score of 1,417, it scored slightly below the state and national average and 89 points behind top scoring Spring Valley High School. Blythewood’s Principal Keith Price was quick to credit Blythewood’s huge gains to students and teachers, but he added that the school has “consistently applied the same methodology since the school opened. Relationship is key in directing students to the test [SAT or ACT] that best suits their test taking style and long term aspirations,” Price explained.

Price said that 60 percent of the school’s graduating seniors go on to a four-year college and 30 percent to a two-year program. To help assure these students’ admission to the college of their choice, Price said he and his guidance counselors study the SAT scores of their students.

“When a student is not achieving a SAT score that will enable them to realistically apply for the college of their dreams, we encourage them to take the ACT. The subtle differences in the way knowledge is measured between the two tests have many students leaning toward one or the other,” Price said.

Like other high schools in the District, both Blythewood High School and Westwood offer SAT workshops with Blythewood offering a semester-long SAT prep class.

When asked about Westwood’s scores, Principal Ralph Schmidt said he is always concerned about test scores, “because every good principal uses data to find ways to make improvements. I and our Red Hawk community want to see growth,” Schmidt said.

Westwood opened just a year ago with a senior class of 112 students. Schmidt said that with the work of the school’s guidance counselors, many of the fourth year students not classified as seniors were able to take the state required classes. About 130 students were able to earn senior status and graduate.

Schmidt said the goal of every principal “is to be realistic with our students and provide opportunities for every student regardless of their post high school plans.” While looking forward to seeing improvement in SAT and ACT scores in the future, Schmidt said he remains optimistic that Westwood will remain a school that advocates for all students. He said he expects this second year to be a better indicator of the student body.

ACT scores remained steady for the state and district at 20.1, with Blythewood High School scoring second highest in the district with 20.4, up 0.8 points over last year. Westwood scored 16.6. The ACT is content based in four subjects: English (which includes Social Studies), Math, Reading, and Science, with a perfect score being 36.

According to Hamm, while test-taking strategies are advantageous to the college bound student, interpreting data at the district and individual school level is only part of the pool to be considered when looking at the District’s test scores.

“I would encourage the community to keep SAT and ACT scores in perspective with all other data,” Hamm said. “One of our goals is for college bound students to be prepared for the college of their choice.” Hamm said she is confident that they are.

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