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High Schools Do Well on SATs

All three local high schools did well on the SAT tests given to seniors in the class of 2006, beating the state and national average scores. Chantilly's critical-reading average was 535; math, 565 and writing, 528.

WESTFIELD'S averages were 535 in critical reading; 556 in math and 524 in writing. Centreville's were 518, critical reading; 541, math and 509, writing. The statewide averages were 512, 513 and 500, respectively.

Changes were made to both the math and critical-reading portions of the test, and writing was added for the first time. Recently, the principals of Chantilly, Westfield and Centreville high schools discussed their reactions to the results.

"We have some very good teachers in advanced-placement courses and, in many cases, those are the same kids taking the SATs," said Chantilly Principal Jim Kacur. "And enrollment in AP classes has gone up significantly. In the mid-1990s, about 400 AP tests were given at Chantilly; this past year, we gave 1,800 AP tests."

He said the school enrollment was "pretty much the same" during both time frames, and the overall pass rate between then and now hasn't changed much, either.

Kacur's also proud that — based on SAT and AP scores — in the September issue of Northern Virginia Magazine, Chantilly was named the 14th best high school in Northern Virginia. Still, he said, "We all need to focus on how we can do better because the [achievement] measures are only getting more stringent."

Added Kacur: "Clearly, through our initiative we've undertaken as a school to focus on instruction and achievement in all content areas, we feel we've taken measures to address it — and it'll impact all our test scores in APs, SATs and SOLs."

He said the school also looks at students who are not succeeding academically and can't see the value in doing so. "We promote the concept of a 'Charger in good standing,'" said Kacur. "These are kids who make 'C's' or better on their report cards, and this leads to better self-esteem."

As for the latest round of SAT scores, he said, "The teachers and students do all the work; we're very pleased."

Westfield Principal Tim Thomas was also happy with the results. "I am very proud of our accomplishments," he said. "It's very rewarding to see the continued trend in improvement."

He believes the SATs are a "meaningful measure" by which students may compare themselves to the performances of other students. And, he said, "We use the SAT not only to prepare our students for test-taking and college, but also to enhance analytical skills."

Thomas said he'd like to see and hopes to lead Westfield into more continued success on the SATs. For example, he said, "Now that we have a benchmark for the writing portion, it'll help us to establish — or, at least, assist in the establishment of — some parameters for classroom instruction and SAT preparation."

He said his school also needs to see how many Westfield students are taking the SAT test. Said Thomas: "The percentage of kids at Westfield taking it has increased beyond the percentage we've increased in enrollment."

He also wants the community to know that "another focus at Westfield has been and will continue to be closing the achievement gap — not only for minority students — but special-ed kids, as well."

Thomas intends to do this by raising awareness of the problem and "making sure teachers are knowledgeable about the differentiation of instruction for all students." He also wants teachers to use the best practices when delivering instruction and wants both teachers and staff to "constantly reflect on their own performances, as well."

Meanwhile, at Centreville High, Principal Mike Campbell says the school is not going to specifically target raising SAT scores, as it does with SOLs and APs, but "consistently try to improve in all areas." Noting that Centreville's SAT scores were "much higher" than the statewide averages in reading and math, he also mentioned another fact.

"This is the first year in the history of Centreville High that the minority is the majority," he said. The figures are 51 and 49 percent. "In Fairfax County, we're looking at meeting the achievement gap between minority and majority students, and it will be a focus of ours to reduce that gap," said Campbell. "If you don't address it, scores will drop."

The percentages of Centreville's students passing the SOLs in English for the past three years, according to race, are as follows: 2003-04, Hispanics, 97 percent; whites, 96; blacks, 81; 2004-05, Hispanics, 88; whites, 94, blacks, 81; 2005-06, Hispanics, 96, whites, 97, blacks, 87. In 2005-06, 75 percent of blacks passed in Fairfax County, and 73 percent passed in Virginia.

"So across the board, everyone is doing very well at Centreville, and the percentage of blacks passing the English SOLs has improved," said Campbell. "But it's still 10 percent behind the whites. This year, 69 percent have to pass, or you're not accredited, and we're way above that."

Similarly, in the math SOLs, the percentages of Centreville's students passing, the past three years, according to race, are as follows: 2003-04, Hispanics, 83 percent; whites, 92; blacks, 80; 2004-05, Hispanics, 78; whites, 92; blacks, 75; 2005-06, Hispanics, 80, whites, 91, blacks, 71. The county and statewide percentages of blacks passing in 2005-06 were 73 and 75 percent, respectively. (All these figures are according to the Virginia Department of Education).

"We are far above the state average, but still need to pull up these scores," said Campbell. "We needed 67 percent of the students to pass in each subcategory, too, like students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency."

He said the school will identify programs of remediation and carry them out. Last year, past Centreville principal Peter Noonan developed a plus period for all students. For 30 minutes during third period, students would return to one of their classes for teachers to remediate material already taught so they could improve their scores.

"That's continuing this year, and we'll try to improve on its efficiency," said Campbell. He said students would be able to get extra help in all their classes.

"At Westfield last year, we put out a manual on ways to improve minority student achievement," said Campbell. "We'll probably incorporate a lot of it here and put out our own manual. And now that we have the data from the state, we can see where we need to improve."