Georgia’s SAT score dips

Education officials defended a slight dip in Georgia’s SAT scores, attributing the decline to more students taking the exam.

Georgia’s overall score dropped seven points to 1445 as participation nudged up a bit to 77 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the College Board, which administers the test. Georgia typically has one of the highest participation rates in the country and usually ranks near the bottom on SAT scores, though the College Board discourages comparisons because of the varying participation rates.

“Do we want to see scores go up every year? Absolutely,” State School Superintendent John Barge said in a statement. “However, we know that as more Georgia students take the SAT, we will sometimes see slight decreases.”

Critics of public education aren’t willing to give officials a pass on this.

“We should be aiming for the highest level of achievement for all the kids who take the test,” said Eric Cochling of the Georgia Center for Opportunity, a group that advocates for charter schools and any other competitive force that would chip away at the public school “monopoly.”

In DeKalb County, the district paid for every student in the class of 2014 to take the exam, whether or not they were planning for college. Test participation rose a whopping 45 percent; the average score in the high-poverty district dropped 8 percent.

College Board officials praised Georgia’s efforts to encourage more students to take more rigorous courses. The percentage of Peach state students who’ve taken at least one Advanced Placement exam has doubled over the past decade, from 11.6 percent to 24.5 percent.

Aggregate numbers, such as state or even district averages, can paint a muddy picture. In Gwinnett County, the state’s largest school district, the overall score dropped one point more than the state’s, yet the district still had the highest-performing school in Georgia with at least 100 test takers.

Year after year, the Gwinnett School of Mathematics Science and Technology tops the state list of schools with a lot of test takers, and continued to do so with the class of 2014.

The test scores could become fodder for the upcoming election.

Valarie Wilson, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent, said the scores are a sign of years of cuts to the state education budget: “These results underscore the need to ensure that all of our districts have the necessary resources to serve our children,” she said in a written statement.

Her opponent, Republican Richard Woods, said schools might boost SAT scores by offering refresher courses in math and other subjects before the test, which typically is taken in the junior year of high school. He said educators should also work with students at an early age to improve literacy and to give teachers greater flexibility in the classroom, with less of a focus on standardized exams.

Both candidates seem to agree on that last point. Wilson said teachers need more freedom to teach critical thinking, which the “current overwhelming testing structure” prevents.

Georgia’s average total score ranked 45th nationally, but it is one of the states with the highest participation rates. North Dakota’s score, in contrast, was nearly 400 points higher than Georgia’s. However, only 2 percent of its high school graduates took the SAT. Only seven states and Washington, D.C. had higher participation rates than Georgia, yet this state’s students fared better than Washington, D.C. and three of those states.

In DeKalb, where former superintendent Cheryl Atkinson got the school board to spend nearly $190,000 so the entire class of 2014 could be tested, the score dropped 113 points.

“The bigger the pool, the more likely the scores are going to go down,” said her successor, Michael Thurmond.

High-performing schools such as Chamblee Charter High tumbled down the SAT list. The class of 2013 ranked 17th in Georgia, but the school dropped to 55th place the next year.

That didn’t matter to Jeffery Henderson. His daughter graduated with the class of 2014 and is now a freshman with a track scholarship at Georgia Tech.

“It didn’t affect us,” said Henderson, whose daughter took AP classes at Chamblee and benefited from the $700 or more that he remembers spending on test-preparation courses. She learned test-taking strategy that kids who couldn’t afford the courses probably didn’t get, he said. His other daughter is a junior at the school and will be taking the SAT herself soon, and Henderson isn’t worried about the quality of education she is getting.

“These tests have nothing to do with the curriculum,” he said. “It’s not what you know, it’s how you take it, which is unfortunate.”

Here’s how the average SAT score of students in metro Atlanta’s largest school districts changed from 2013 to this year (2013 score listed first, then 2014 score)

Atlanta Public Schools 1335 1343

Clayton County Public Schools 1271 1278

Cobb County School District 1515 1515

DeKalb County School District 1341 1228

Fulton County Schools 1567 1567

Gwinnett County Public Schools 1513 1505

Source: College Board

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