Central-Phenix City improves SAT scores, led by gains from black students

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 30, 2013 

Central High School of Phenix City made substantial gains on its SAT scores this past year, according to data the school district released Monday.

Central improved its average composite score by 36 points, from 1233 last year to 1269 this year. Even more impressive, Phenix City superintendent Larry DiChiara noted, Central's black students boosted their average composite score by 59 points (from 1175 to 1234), closing the gap with their white counterparts, who increased their average composite score by 20 points (from 1436 to 1456).

A perfect SAT composite score is 2400. The national average composite score was 1498. The Alabama average composite score was 1608.

"Ours is still lower than we'd like it," DiChiara said, "but our white kids typically are our kids who aren't impoverished, and our black kids typically are on the free lunch program, so there's a significant difference in how we're scoring. I don't know how you remedy that, other than trying to give them resources early on in life so they have the same advantages of the kids who don't grow up in poverty."

Officials have explained Alabama's superior SAT performance compared to the national average by emphasizing that the ACT is the state's more popular college entrance exam -- 38,122 Alabama students took the ACT in 2013; 3,558 took the SAT -- so those who take the SAT in Alabama tend to be the higher achievers. The SAT, however, is so relatively insignificant in Alabama, the state's Department of Education didn't issue a news release to announce its scores.

In Phenix City, 203 Central students took the ACT in the spring of 2013, compared to 58 who took the SAT. As the Ledger-Enquirer reported in August, Central's average ACT score dropped from 17.8 to 17.7 this past year. The national average was 20.9. The Alabama average was 20.4. A perfect ACT score is 36.

DiChiara said he expected his district to perform better on the SAT than the ACT.

"Most of our higher achievers take the SAT rather than the ACT," he said. "However, we push all of our student athletes to take the ACT for eligibility purposes for college, whether they are college-ready or not."

DiChiara also figures the Central students benefit from taking the PSAT, the pre-SAT exam taken in 10th grade.

"It is administered free of charge," he said. "It allows the teachers and students to get feedback on strengths and weaknesses. This feedback allows teachers and students to target deficiencies."

The ACT doesn't have a similar pre-exam.

"It typically costs approximately $75 to take (the ACT)," DiChiara said. "However, now that the state is requiring that all students must now take the ACT, paid for by the state, hopefully we will receive group assessment reports on all of the students taking the exam."

DiChiara said he isn't sure whether any initiative helped improve Central's SAT scores.

"Our main focus has always been on helping these high schoolers pass the Alabama High School Graduation Exam," he said.

DiChiara described the difference between the ACT and SAT.

"The ACT is more of a content-based assessment, while the SAT requires more abstract reasoning skills," he said. "These are very hard to teach or remediate.

"An example is, the ACT may ask you to multiply or divide some numbers to find the answer. The SAT will give you some numbers and ask you to determine the best process to follow in order to find the answer. The ACT would be a lot easier to prepare our students for or to remediate any deficiencies than it would be to do the same on the SAT."OTHER LOCAL SCHOOLS

SAT scores for Russell County and Smiths Station high schools weren't available Monday. The Ledger-Enquirer reported last week the SAT scores for the local high schools in Georgia (Muscogee, Harris and Chattahoochee counties). Click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com for that story.

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