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Amid Federal Test-Score Push, SAT Scores Not Rising

Despite the federal No Child Left Behind Act's emphasis on raising test scores, most public schools in the region have not improved their SAT results.

Recently released 2004 SAT scores for seniors show some local public schools made impressive gains on the college-entrance exam. Scores at a few schools have plummeted since the 2001 test.

And as students brace for the new version of the SAT that debuts March 12, scores for Pennsylvania and New Jersey remained far below the national average.

The schools making gains include Harry S Truman High School in Levittown and Bucks County Technical High School in Fairless Hills, both in Bucks County, and Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills, Delaware County. Each school improved its average SAT score by more than 50 points since 2001, according to an Inquirer analysis.

In New Jersey, Collingswood High School in Camden County had a 47-point gain.

Such improvements stand out because scores were largely unchanged for most public schools in the region. The national average remained 1,026; Pennsylvania increased its average by 1 point, to 1,003; and New Jersey dipped by 1, to 1,015. Both states' scores are among the lowest in the country. New Jersey ranked 40th among all 50 states; Pennsylvania was 46th.

In the Philadelphia region, nearly half of the 112 public high schools scored above the state average. In South Jersey, more than an quarter of the 59 public high schools were above the state average.

Education researchers say family income and parents' education levels are strongly linked to student success on the SATs. That's one reason schools in well-to-do districts such as Lower Merion in Montgomery County, Radnor in Delaware County, and Haddonfield in Camden County typically have some of the region's highest SAT scores.

Many local educators last week said they were paying less attention to the SATs because they are focused on boosting scores on state-mandated tests to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements. Others said efforts to improve student performance on tests such as Pennsylvania's System of School Assessment were having a spillover effect.

"As we're bringing students along on the PSSA, it's helping with the SAT," said Burton Hynes, principal at North Penn High School in Lansdale, Montgomery County. Scores there have increased 10 points since 2001.

Truman High School in Levittown recorded the largest SAT gain of any public school in the region. Its combined score rose 64 points, including a 57-point gain from 2003.

While Truman has been working to boost achievement, guidance director Mark Kaye said the increase also reflected the strength of its Class of 2004.

"We did have a very bright class," he said.

The school's combined score of 955 was still below the state average, but Kaye said that it was a big gain for a school in a blue-collar community with a large immigrant population.

The score at Bucks County Technical High School in Fairless Hills increased 56 points, from 786 to 842. Principal Connie Ricker said the gains reflected the school's goal of bolstering academics. The technical school offers college-prep and Advanced Placement courses.

"The labor market has raised its standards," Ricker said. "It's not enough for a student to have a high school diploma."

When Garnet Valley High School underwent a Middle States evaluation a few years ago, it chose improving SAT scores as one of its goals, principal Joseph E. Hook said.

The school developed an SAT course and paid for private test-prep classes. That helped, but Hook said a building boom was also a factor in the school's 51-point gain. Ten years ago, he said, Garnet Valley had fewer than 500 students. Today, it has 1,212.

"We're getting parents who are buying homes who have college degrees," Hook said. "They expect their kids to go to college. Typically, those kids score higher."

Scores at Collingswood rose by 47 points, and principal Charles Earling attributes much of the growth to free, after-school SAT review courses.

Other schools showed a marked decline on SAT averages, including several Philadelphia schools. The district is encouraging more students to take the SATs and is expanding SAT-prep programs. But increasing the number of test takers can cause scores to drop.

"You expect that, but you don't like it," said Creg Williams, the district's deputy chief academic officer.

Audenried High School in South Philadelphia, which went through turbulent times a few years ago, had the greatest decline in the city. Scores there fell 102 points, from 743 to 641.

Small schools with few students taking the SATs are vulnerable to swings in their scores, said Amy Schmidt, the College Board's director of higher-education research. "You have to take those numbers in context," she said.

Woodbury Junior/Senior High School in Gloucester County, which has 86 seniors, had a 91-point decline, from 1,004 to 913.

"We are a small school, and we encourage all students to take it. It only takes a few students to really skew the results," said principal Daniel J. Mackie.

Morrisville High School in Bucks County, with 56 seniors, had the single largest drop in the region. Its combined SAT score plummeted 183 points - from 1,003 to 820.

"It is a concern, without a doubt," said Leon Poeske, principal at Morrisville for the last year. The district is changing the curriculum to meet state standards and stressing the value of standardized tests.

"I'm optimistic," Poeske said. "We have small numbers, and with that you can see big growth."

Coming March 6

School Report Card

SAT scores will be included in The Inquirer's 2005 Report Card on the Schools.

The section this year focuses on teachers and their role in schools.

Third-grade test scores for math and reading will be included for the first time, along with test scores for higher grades.

This comprehensive annual report will include profiles and information on every district in the region.
Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

— Martha Woodall and Alletta Emeno
Philadelphia Inquirer


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