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SAT Scores Rise Countywide

Wakefield lags, but county continues to exceed national, state averages.

Most Arlington schools continued to excel on the SAT tests, according to county scores released last week by Arlington Public Schools.

On average, county students improved over last year’s scores, earning a county-wide average combined score of 1052. That continues the trend of countywide averages exceeding state and national averages.

Looking school by school shows some troubling signs, however. The average verbal and math scores at both Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools were well above the national averages.

Robert Smith, superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, said last week he was happy to see the increase in local scores, a sentiment echoed by other administrators

"We’re pleased to see the scores increase, and we want to see that keep happening," said Katherine Grove, assistant superintendent for instruction. "Particularly in terms of increasing the number of students taking test."

But at Wakefield High School, the average score on both the math and verbal portions of the SAT were under the average scores for the state of Virginia, and nationwide. Wakefield students’ average combined score was only 926, almost 100 points less than the nationwide score of 1020.

In addition, Arlington schools are still recovering from drooping scores over the last five years. Countywide, the average score dropped from 2000 to 2001, a trend mirrored at Wakefield and Washington-Lee. At Yorktown, average scores topped out in 1999. It was a trend not seen in the state and nationwide averages, which have only continued to climb over the last five years.

That should not be a cause for alarm, though, Grove said. "Every year of students is different," she said. In addition, there is less likely to be any great fluctuation in scores at nationwide levels, she said. "The smaller the pool of students you look at, the larger the variation from year to year. If you look at Arlington scores, you see less variation system wide than at individual schools."

THE PERCENTAGE of seniors who took the SATs was not available last week – the county is still tabulating the number of summer school students who graduated. But Smith said that the percentage was roughly the same as in past years, roughly 75 percent of the county’s graduating seniors.

In Arlington, 688 seniors took the test in the Classes of both 2001 and 2002 – a number that comprised 76 percent of the Class of 2001, and it should reflect about the same percentage, Grove said. "It looks comparable to last year, and last year’s student body was similar," she said.

The percentage of seniors taking the test held roughly steady in Arlington over the last three years, as well as in Virginia and nationwide. But the proportion of graduating seniors still continues to outpace national and statewide averages.

The schools will institute new programs to increase participation and averages, in the future, by giving students a better idea, earlier, of what to expect on the SAT.

"We have an initiative this year, where all students at the lower grades, 10th and 11th, will take the PSAT," Grove said. "We’re hoping that will give them some experience at tests like this, and contribute to increased [SAT] scores in the future."

SAT SCORES OUTPACED Standard of Learning scores this year – a rarity. It’s due in part to a scoring error on the SOL tests, Grove said. "They did recalibrate the writing," she said, due to errors in grading the tests made by the testing company.

In addition, the state required expedited retesting for SOLs, letting students who just missed passing retake the test over the summer. That delayed the report of scores, which should be due in the next month.