Montgomery County Public Schools’ 2013 SAT results showed movement in both African-American and Hispanic students’ scores — but in different directions.
African-American students’ average combined score rose to 1397 this year — eight points above last year’s score. From 2011 to 2012, African-American students’ average score increased seven points.
Hispanic students’ average combined score, however, fell 32 points this year after a six-point increase from 2011 to 2012.
Both student groups scored significantly higher than their state and national peers this year.
The county school system’s overall average combined score fell three points — from 1651 in 2012 to 1648 this year — but was still 11 points above the 2011 score.
The SAT serves as a college placement exam and has a maximum score of 2400 across three areas: critical reading, mathematics and writing.
African-American students’ scores improved in all three areas of the test. Hispanic students’ scores fell in all three.
About 61 percent of the school system’s 2013 African-American graduates took the SAT and about 47 percent of Hispanic graduates took the test — relatively the same as last year’s participation for both student groups.
Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said in an interview Thursday that school system staff will sit down with principals and schools leaders to talk over the scores and evaluate what they did and did not do.
“I’m concerned, I’m really concerned,” Starr said of the decline in Hispanic students’ scores. “I don’t understand why that drop exists.”
Addressing the county school system’s overall combined score, Starr said, “We are essentially stable.”
Starr said the school system has focused efforts toward helping students traditionally underrepresented in colleges, including African-American and Hispanic students.
Montgomery County Board of Education member Michael Durso said he and others in the school system will need to take time to determine what these scores mean.
“I think on the surface that’s disturbing,” said Durso, addressing Hispanic students’ scores. “I think deeper down I’d probably want to talk to some others and maybe talk to some people at the schools to get their impression.”
He described “the whole SAT score phenomenon” as “fluid and unpredictable.”
Durso, a former principal, said that in all three jurisdictions he’s worked in there were years when SAT scores would change without an apparent corresponding change of the school’s instruction.
“Of all the issues we deal with in education, interpreting those scores is one of the more challenging ones,” he said.
School board member Rebecca Smondrowski said she thinks the SAT scores are “one piece of a lot of different things” and that the SAT data will help the school board determine what questions it needs to ask.
Smondrowski said the school system’s Hispanic students are “our fastest growing population.”
“I’m not confident that we have the resources totally to keep up with the growth,” she said.
She said the school system is working hard to target achievement gaps, but that this time that was not reflected in Hispanic students’ scores.
Across the school system, four high schools increased their average combined score by 20 points or more, while eight decreased their scores by 20 points or more. Rockville High School’s score rose 57 points to 1582 with the greatest increase and Seneca Valley High School’s score fell 75 points to 1447 for the greatest decrease.
Rockville High Principal Billie-Jean Bensen said the school formed a team last year that worked to identify students who, based on their course work and PSAT participation, would be good candidates for the SAT but had not yet taken the test.
“We’re certainly continuing that this year,” she said.
Marc Cohen, Seneca Valley High’s principal, said his initial reaction to the decrease in his school’s scores was “disappointment.” The school, however, saw a nearly 110-point increase the year before, he said.
Cohen said he meets with the school’s SAT and ACT committee on a regular basis and that over the next few months they will discuss what might have changed to affect this year’s scores and what interventions they believe led to the increase last year.
The SAT data, Cohen said, will “push us to ask questions.”