As the start of the 2003-04 school year approaches, the principals of all three local high schools have reason to be proud of their students' performance on the most recent SAT test. Chantilly, Centreville and Westfield all increased their scores from the previous year.
As reported by the College Board — which administers the test — Chantilly led the way, scoring 539 points on the verbal portion of the test and 561 on the math section. Westfield received 526 points on the verbal and 540 on the math, and Centreville logged 522, verbal, and 551, math.
"We started testing all our ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders on the PSAT, during the school day, a few years ago," said Chantilly Principal Tammy Turner. "I really think that giving them three years of practice before having to take the one test that counts has made a significant difference in their achievement level because they're more familiar with the test."
THE PAST SCHOOL year also proved to be a watershed one for Fairfax County Public Schools, with last year's juniors racking up the highest average SAT scores in the history of the school system.
Students here scored an average of 546 on the verbal part and 564 on the math for an average total of 1,110. These scores also topped the Virginia average of 514, verbal, and 510, math, and the nationwide averages of 507, verbal, and 519, math.
In the school system as a whole, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology recorded the highest scores, 730, verbal, and 748, math. Next came Langley High with 587, verbal, and 614, math, followed by McLean and Woodson.
Turner said she was "absolutely delighted" with Chantilly's improvement in math. And she attributed the school's jump from 544 points in 2002, to this time's 561, to "some little things" that all added up.
For example, she said, "About three or four years ago, we began offering double-block algebra classes — pre-algebra and algebra together — for kids needing a little extra help. Providing them with a good, solid, Algebra I background gives them a good foundation to build on for future success in math."
LIKEWISE IN THE VERBAL arena, the groundwork was laid, a while ago. "Since [the advent of] the SOLs, we've had a real focus on all aspects of English — reading, literature, writing skills and grammar," explained Turner. "And with the increased emphasis there, we're reaping rewards elsewhere."
She said Chantilly starts preparing students in grade nine, sequentially, to build the skills they'll need in the next levels. And teachers do systematic planning together to insure that this occurs and that there's a smooth transition from grade to grade.
Last year, Chantilly purchased an online SAT tutorial program, and it, too, is helping. "Teachers run this program after school, and we were targeting some of our minority groups to give them access to [it]," said Turner. "I think we'll see the results, this year [on the SATs]. We're starting to make sure our minority and special-ed kids are improving their scores, and we're making a concerted effort to give them the assistance they need."
Meanwhile, she's pleased with her school's performance on the latest SATs. Said Turner: "I'm very proud of the hard work of our teachers and students because they've shown a real seriousness of purpose."
AT WESTFIELD, Principal Dale Rumberger believes his students' SAT scores improved because of "more kids taking more difficult subject matter and working at it." And each year, he said, this new school gets to know its students and their families better, and that, too, plays a part.
"Our percentage of seniors who went on to two- and four-year colleges, this year, matched almost exactly the percentage of seniors that took the SAT," he said. "So I think we're getting the message across [to students] that taking the SAT helps you know and understand the level of work you'll have to do in college."
Furthermore, said Rumberger, "The students who do well on the SAT do their homework, ask questions and come in for extra help." He said Westfield is doing a better job of working with parents to help interpret the SAT scores so they can see the areas in which their children need to improve.
"We require the PSAT for juniors, and sophomores interested in going to college should also take it," said Rumberger. Regarding the just-released SAT scores, he said the school will aim for even higher marks in the future: "We're obviously pleased with how hard the students, parents and faculty work, but we're not done."
OVER AT CENTREVILLE HIGH, Principal Pam Latt was also glad her students showed improvement and said the school's been working hard on both areas of the test.
"We're raising the level of the math that the kids take and are moving them from Algebra I to Algebra II to geometry," she said. "We're pushing the kids to go higher and higher each time and not stop, but to stay in math for four years." As a result, she said, "We went up significantly in math [on the SAT], the past two years."
In the verbal realm, said Latt, "We've rewritten the English curriculum for grades nine through 12, strengthening the strands that would correlate to the SAT and making sure they were consistent across all four years."
That way, she explained, what one teacher does will reinforce what the previous teacher did. "But we won't see the results of it on the SATs for a few years," she said. "It's only been in place, one year. [In comparison], we made the change in math, four years ago."
Centreville is also requiring all students to take the PSAT in their freshman, sophomore and junior years. Latt said the whole idea is to get them used to taking the test.
While saying she doesn't believe the test scores have anything to do with the diversity in a school, she noted that Centreville has seen a "huge improvement" in the performance of its Black and Hispanic population, which it's been targeting.
"There's been an increase in the number of kids taking the SAT and being really successful," said Latt. "Centreville is 12 percent Hispanic and almost 10 percent Black so, by focusing on them, too, the scores for the whole school improve."