Local: Education

Montgomery, Fairfax SAT scores climb as tests fall nationally

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

Montgomery County students set a record for SAT scores last year, boosting their performance by 14 points to close in on rival Fairfax County, which still topped the region on the college entrance exam.

But overall scores stagnated in the District, where students have showed significant gains on the math portion of the exam but have failed to improve on the reading and writing tests.

In Prince George's County, SAT scores dropped across the board for an eight-point loss.

Local SAT performance
  Critical reading Math Writing Total
Alexandria City Public Schools 485 (+8) 477 (+4) 474 (+5) 1,436 (+17)
Arlington Public Schools 550 (+5) 556 (+4) 534 (+4) 1,640 (+13)
District public schools* 401 (-3) 395 (+3) 388 (-3) 1,184 (-3)
Fairfax County Public Schools 550 (-1) 567 (+4) 542 (+2) 1,659 (+5)
Montgomery County Public Schools 545 (+3) 561 (+7) 545 (+4) 1,651 (+14)
Prince George's County Public Schools 433 (-2) 422 (-2) 419 (-4) 1,274 (-8)
Maryland public schools 489 (-3) 498 (+1) 480 (-3) 1,467 (-5)
Virginia public schools 508 (-1) 510 (+3) 492 (+0) 1,510 (+2)
Nationwide public schools 491 (-2) 505 (-1) 481 (-1) 1,477 (-4)
* Includes both DC Public Schools and public charter schools. Separated data was unavailable Monday.
Source: College Board

Scores nationally fell, as average scores on the reading and writing sections of the test hit record lows -- reading was the worst in 40 years -- and math scores remained the same as 2011, which was just five points higher than students' scores in 1972.

"This report should serve as a call to action to expand access to rigor for more students. ... When less than half of kids who want to go to college are prepared to do so, that system is failing," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Spirits were a bit better in Washington's powerhouse districts, Montgomery and Fairfax, where scores increased after falling about 10 points in 2011.

Montgomery students on average scored a 1,651 on the SAT, a 14-point jump fueled by a seven-point increase on the math portion of the exam. Reading and writing performance also improved, by three and four points, respectively.

A score of 1,650 is one of Montgomery's "Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness," academic benchmarks for future success.

"I am proud that our students overall have reached such a significant SAT milestone," Superintendent Joshua Starr wrote in a memo to the school board. "At the same time, we will continue to analyze this data so that we can improve."

Fairfax students improved their average score by five points to 1,659, driven by a four-point gain on the math exam.

The area's smaller districts also claimed progress on the SAT, bucking the national trend. Arlington Public Schools students improved across the board for an average increase of 13 points and an average score of 1,640. In Alexandria's school district - home to just one high school - scores improved even more dramatically, from 1,419 to 1,436.

At the state level, however, scores stayed flat or fell short. Virginia improved its average score by two points to 1,510, as math scores increased. Although math performance increased slightly in Maryland, downturns on the writing and reading portions set the state back five points overall.

In the District, the average score fell three points to 1,184.And while the average score is 10 points higher than it was in 2008, that relies on a 13-point gain on the math exam. Reading scores have remained flat since 2008, while the average writing score has fallen three points in that time.

"We're working hard to ensure our students have better access and good preparation for the SAT," Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokeswoman for DC Public Schools, said in an email. "It's critical for their future success and it's a major priority in our high schools."

Audrey Williams, a spokeswoman for the DC Public Charter School Board, said the SAT scores will inform ratings of the charter schools, due out Nov. 1.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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