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Poverty, Language and Limited Years of School Contribute to SAT Disparity

August 28, 2001
The 2001 results of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) reflect a continuing disparity by race and ethnicity within the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), in which the lowest scores were among students impacted heavily by poverty, English language development, and fewest years of schooling in the system, especially among African American and Hispanic students.

White students achieved an overall average score of 1154, the highest ever reported and a gain of 15 points since 1997. Asian American students increased to an average score of 1127, a 14-point gain compared to four years ago. But the average score for African American students fell by four points to 911, a loss of 13 points since 1997, and the score for Hispanic students declined by 11 points to 949, a 45-point decline over four years.

Overall, the average score for the school system was 1092, the highest systemwide average score in Maryland, 74 points above the statewide average, and 72 points above the national average. The systemwide score reflects a decrease of one point due to a single-point decline in the average mathematics score (556) from the record-setting performance achieved the year before. The average score in the verbal portion of the exam remained the same at 536. The one-point changes are not statistically significant.

More than one fifth of the African American students (23 percent) and Hispanic students (22 percent) taking the SAT were new to the school system in high school, according to an analysis by the Office of Shared Accountability. Forty-four percent of the Hispanic students and 11 percent of the African American students taking the SAT had participated in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program. Fifty-seven percent of the Hispanic students and 47 percent of the African American students had qualified previously for Free and Reduced-price Meal Service (FARMS).

By comparison, the achievement of white and Asian American students, who represent nearly three-fourths of all students who took the SAT, reflects a distinctly different picture. For example, less than 10 percent of white students taking the SAT enrolled in MCPS beginning in high school, or participated in English language instruction, or qualified for meal assistance. Except for language instruction and meal assistance, the experience of Asian American students is very similar.

The percentage of students who scored above 1200 (a level consistent with the most competitive schools nationally) increased by two percentage points to 41 percent for white students and by one percentage point to 40 percent for Asian American students. By comparison, the percentage of African American students at this level decreased by one percentage point to just seven percent, and Hispanic students decreased by four percentage points to 10 percent.

African American students enrolled in MCPS since kindergarten or first grade achieved an average score (943), which was 211 points below the average score for white students (1154) who had been enrolled for the same period of time.

“The implications of this difference go to the heart of our plans for the future of our school system,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education. “The issues involve fundamental questions about educational opportunity, academic expectations, active learning, consistent teaching, academic leadership, and individual parental support, particularly at the secondary school level.”

Dr. Weast cited ongoing academic initiatives and preliminary data from a study of the new curriculum and the full-day program in kindergarten as examples of the potential for improvement in student literacy skills and for long-term gains.

“The differences in the SAT results by race and ethnicity are significant but they are not unique to Montgomery County, nor will the gap be erased quickly,” said Dr. Weast. “The stark reality and depth of the differences, however, demonstrate the vast implications of the responsibilities we have accepted to raise the achievement of all students through a rigorous academic program.

“The pathways to success for African American and Hispanic students must continue to be made as clear as they are for white and Asian American students, by both their schools and their families,” said Dr. Weast. “That improvement will only happen, however, if we apply such lessons to each and every grade for each and every student at each and every school.”

The ongoing academic initiatives focus on early childhood education, community and parent collaboration, literacy, mathematics, class-size reductions, professional development and evaluation of staff, assessment and accountability, and the alignment of the curriculum with recognized state, national, and international standards. The Board of Education established last year a system of shared accountability and approved this summer a series of specific assessment measurements and targets, in which individual student performance and equity are key indicators.

At the same time, the changing enrollment is a critical factor affecting long-term strategies. The percentage of students in ESOL systemwide exceeded seven percent last year, representing nearly half of the entire such enrollment in Maryland. The percentage of students participating in FARMS was nearly 22 percent last year, and the percentage of students ever in FARMS has reached 34 percent systemwide.

The entire enrollment growth of more than 6,400 students from 1998 to 2000 was among Hispanic, African American, and Asian American students, with Hispanic students increasing by 62 percent (nearly three times the growth rate of African American and Asian American students). The white student enrollment declined by eight percent.

The full report containing the entire SAT results for the school system and individuals schools, including disaggregated data, is available as a pdf file at the web link below.

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