October 17, 2013

SAT scores at Maine high schools show ‘good news, bad news’

Math and reading scores rise, but scores in writing and science drop, and not even half of the students are at grade level.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Newly released SAT scores show that Maine’s high school juniors made small improvements in math and reading last year, but not even half were at grade level in any of the four areas tested: math, reading, writing and science.

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Maimuna Hassan, 17, now a Portland High senior, said she was pleased with her individual SAT scores, particularly since the test was difficult. “There were words on the vocabulary section I had never heard,” she said.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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The results from the test given in the spring are “good news, bad news” for Maine, said David Silvernail, director of the Center for Educational Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine.

Statewide, the percentage of students reading at or above grade level went up almost 2 points from 2012, from 47.2 percent to 48.9 percent. Math scores at or above grade level went up slightly, from 47.2 percent to 48.1 percent.

But scores in writing and science dropped, according to the Maine Department of Education, which released the figures Wednesday.

The percentage of students performing at or above grade level in writing fell more than 3 points, from 46.8 percent to 43.7 percent.

The rate for science scores dropped more than 3 percentage points, from 44.8 to 41.3 percent.

“It’s improving in some areas, but still over half of our kids in the 11th grade aren’t meeting proficiency,” said Silvernail.

That’s troubling, he said, considering that Maine has a graduation rate of about 80 percent.

“If we’re graduating about 80 percent and only about 50 percent are proficient, I think that is something very important to try to unpack. It seems we’re not graduating seniors ready for the ‘Three C’s’ – college, career and citizenship,” he said.

In the past four decades, Maine has tripled education spending but student performance has not changed significantly, Silvernail found last year in an analysis of Maine’s schools.

“Considering the resources and time we’ve invested, it’s fair to expect we would be moving the needle more than we are,” he said.

difficult to COMPARE STATES’ SCORES

Maine has a 95 percent participation rate for the SAT, a standardized test given nationally, because the state requires high school juniors to take it as part of the Maine High School Assessment.

Maine uses the SAT to test for math, reading and writing. It uses its own state-designed test for science, which is required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The numbers released by the state Department of Education include science scores.

Because the SAT is not required in every state, it’s not possible to compare Maine with states where the test is taken only by students who intend to go to college.

Maine’s participation rate is third-highest in the nation, behind only Idaho and Delaware. In more than a dozen states, fewer than 10 percent of students take the SAT.

According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, Maine’s mean scores for the test in the spring were 462 for reading, 467 for math and 451 for writing – 1380 overall. The College Board considers an overall score of 1550 to be the benchmark for college and career readiness.

Nationwide, 43 percent of the students who took the SAT met that benchmark, according to the College Board.

Silvernail said it is fair to compare Maine with some states in this region that have high participation rates, such as Massachusetts, with a rate of 83 percent. Students in Massachusetts scored 40 to 60 points higher in each category than those in Maine.

portland students score below average

Portland High School senior Maimuna Hassan, 17, said Wednesday that she had received her own SAT scores and was happy with them, particularly since the test was difficult.

“It was a hard test, yes,” said Hassan, who plans to attend the University of Southern Maine to take acting courses and study for a medical career. “I took prep classes at school, but (the test) was really hard. There were words on the vocabulary section I had never heard.”

Portland students scored below the state averages, by significant numbers in some areas.

In math, only 35.7 percent scored at or above grade level proficiency, compared with 48.1 percent statewide. In reading, Portland schools had 44.3 percent at or above grade level, compared with 47.2 statewide.

Statewide results for writing show 22 percent of last year’s high school juniors not meeting grade-level proficiency, 37 percent meeting it and 6.6 percent exceeding it. The remaining students were deemed to have partially met the standard.

For science, statewide results show 31.7 percent of students not at grade-level proficiency, 37.6 percent meeting grade-level performance, and 3.7 percent exceeding it.

Science education has been the subject of much attention, with Gov. Paul LePage emphasizing the need for more science, technology, engineering and mathematics training so Maine students can compete globally.

PROGRESS ENCOURAGING, BUT WORK TO DO

The state’s top academic officer said she is glad that the math and reading scores, which state and federal education officials use to track schools’ progress, are on the rise.

“We still have work to do, but it is encouraging to see performance gains in these foundational areas so critical to ensuring student success beyond high school,” said Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Rachelle Tome.

“Am I satisfied that more than half of Maine high school students still aren’t proficient in math and reading? Absolutely not, but this increased achievement shows we are starting to move in the right direction and that we must continue to double down on our commitment to accountability, higher standards and enhancing educator effectiveness,” Tome said in a prepared statement.

Tome has long argued that “what is measured, is valued,” and said it isn’t surprising to see rising scores in areas that are measured.

The scores are also used as part of the state’s new A-to-F grading system for public schools, and a low participation rate can affect a school’s grade as well.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: ngallagher@pressherald.com
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