By Kevin O’Rourke
While Montgomery County Public School graduates continue to fare better on the SAT than their counterparts in other Maryland districts and nationwide, the scores at two Germantown high schools lag behind the Montgomery County average scores.
The MCPS class of 2014 earned a combined average SAT score of 1650 – out of a possible 2400 --, a two-point increase over the previous year and significantly higher than graduates from the state of Maryland and nationwide. The district’s scores were bolstered by significant gains among African American and Hispanic graduates, with scores increasing six points and 10 points, respectively.
Since 2011, the combined average SAT score of MCPS graduates has increased by 13 points, while scores have declined for graduates statewide--down 24 points--and nationwide--down three points. In Maryland, the 2014 graduates earned a combined average SAT score of 1468, which is down 15 points from the previous year. Nationally, graduates scored 1497, a drop of one point.
But the Germantown graduates did not rise to the same level as other MCPS schools: The combined average SAT score for students in Northwest High School was 1577, while at Seneca Valley High School the combined average SAT score was 1477.
Seneca Valley’s scores were nine points higher than the Maryland average, and slightly lower – 20 points – than the national average. Northwest’s scores remained 109 points above the state average and 80 points above the national average.
Seneca Valley was among seven MCPS high schools that saw a one-year increase in both SAT participation and combined average score — along with Albert Einstein, Col. Zadok Magruder, Poolesville, Quince Orchard, Springbrook, and Wheaton
Countywide SAT participation remained high, with 69 percent of graduates taking the college entrance examination, the same percentage as the previous year. At Northwest, 75 percent of graduates took the SAT, while Seneca Valley saw 68 percent of the class take the test. Both local Germantown schools have seen increased percentages of students taking the SAT since 2011, while the countywide percentage remains almost unchanged.
Seneca Valley Principal Marc Cohen said it is hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison with schools, “I tend to not benchmark our school with all schools in the county, but rather benchmark with schools that are on a similar socio-economic plain. While we are in the bottom quadrille among all county schools, when you look at MCPS high schools that are on the same socio-economic plain we are right in the mix,” said Cohen. He pointed out that many Seneca Valley families simply cannot afford the private SAT preparation tutors that schools in wealthier high school clusters can.
Cohen also pointed out that Seneca Valley has a significant mobility rate, which is the rate of students joining or leaving the school during the high school years. Seneca Valley’s mobility rate is 17.3 percent, which translates to roughly 45 of 2014’s 261 graduates who did not attend Seneca Valley for all four years. “Many students that finish with us at Seneca Valley do not start with us, and often they are coming from outside of Montgomery County,” he said.
Northwest Principal Lance Dempsey said, “We are always working to support our students and their growth.” She pointed out that Northwest has increased overall student participation in the SATs over the past four years from 66.9 percent to 74.6 percent.
“In addition, we have increased the percentage of our African American students who took the test by almost 10 percent. We currently have an SAT/ACT action plan in place and are always looking to improve,” said Dempsey.
“As an added bonus, we have SAT practice classes offered during Saturday School here and we use the online college-board program with our students daily to best prepare and support their growth.”
Phil Kauffman, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education said, “Overall, our students are performing very well on the SAT and are demonstrating their readiness for success in college and careers. I want to congratulate our students and staff on these outstanding results. We must continue our work to ensure that all children receive an education that prepares them for success today and in the future.”
MCPS Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr said, “The SAT is an important indicator of a student’s college readiness, and MCPS graduates are clearly outperforming their peers across the state and the nation in this area. In order to continue this progress, we must redouble on our efforts to make sure every student in MCPS graduates ready for college and the workplace.”
The SAT college entrance exam includes three sections -- critical reading, mathematics, and writing -- with each section worth 800 points. The MCPS Class of 2014 earned an average score of 547 on the critical reading section, 560 on the math section, and 542 on the writing section.
When the three sections of the exam are broken down the local numbers look like this:
The critical reading SAT score for all MCPS in 2014 was 547. Northwest students earned a score of 516, and Seneca Valley students scored 489.
In Math, the average 2014 MCPS score was 560, the Northwest score was 542, and the Seneca Valley score was 490.
Finally the writing section saw MCPS scores averaging 542, while Northwest scores averaged 519, and Seneca Valley averaged a score of 498.
“Although we are not satisfied with our overall scores, we have kept our mean scores in math above 540 for the past three years and we are currently working to eclipse our target of 550 this coming year,” said Dempsey.
Cohen acknowledged that the Seneca Valley’s SAT scores were lower than the county average and have been for some time, but added that SAT scores do not measure a school, but rather a child’s preparedness for college. He suggests a more accurate measure of a high school is the Washington Post’s Most Challenging High Schools listing, where Seneca Valley ranks 18th among MCPS high schools in the Washington Post’s list of Washington D.C. area schools. Northwest ranks 11th among MCPS schools on that list.
“I am more interested in those ratings to use a guideline to how the school is doing,” said Cohen. “If we can continue to do the things move us up on those lists, the SAT scores will continue to increase.”
For more information and a complete listing of the scores of all MCPS schools please consult the MCPS website.