10/31/13 ACT makes its mark

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SAT Scores

ACT makes its mark
Fewer students are taking the SAT, now less of a benchmark
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 10/31/13  
Reprinted with permission.

   Fewer Alamance County students are taking an established college entrance test, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and their participation varies a lot from school to school.

   That’s to be expected since all high school juniors across the state take the ACT, another widely accepted college entrance exam, without paying the SAT’s registration fee.

   “If I have a score that gets me where I need to be, I have very little incentive to take” the SAT, said Steve Achey, director of research and accountability at the Alamance-Burlington School System.

   Achey presented the test results to the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education this week at its regular October meeting.

   Those results show average SAT scores across the district have fallen by one point, while scores across the state have risen by 10 points and remained steady across the country.

   Fewer students are taking the SAT in Alamance County and North Carolina. The number of ABSS students taking the SAT in 2013 dropped 8 percentage points, while the number of students taking it statewide dropped 6 percentage points.

   Participation at the county’s six high schools varied.

   SAT participation rates at Hugh M. Cummings High School dropped by nearly 28 percent points, there was an 18 percentage-point drop at Western Alamance High School, and more than a 12 percentage-point drop at Walter M. Williams High School.

   Eastern Alamance High School actually had a 6 percentage-point increase in students taking the SAT.

   Achey said the SAT is not a good tool to assess schools or the district. Generally only students bound for college bother to take it, and fewer take it now that the ACT is mandatory and free.

   Achey said he could not break down reasons for the differences among the high schools because ABSS is busy getting ready for the release of last year’s End of Grade and End of Course test results from the state.

   The district has long encouraged students to take the SAT as part of steering them toward college.

   But ABSS administrators said the SAT is less relevant to schools now since the ACT is not only required, but is also “aligned” to the Common Core Standards that North Carolina adopted along with 44 other states.

   Angela Bost, ABSS assistant superintendent, told the board the SAT is not tied to the state’s accountability standards for schools and teachers and does not show the district how students are doing with the curriculum the way the ACT does.

   According to the ACT website, the ACT is an achievement test, meaning it assesses what students are learning in class, while the SAT is an aptitude test, meaning it assesses students’ reasoning and verbal skills.

   Board member Kristen Moffett said she understood the ACT to be a better measure of what the district is trying to do.

   Board Vice Chair Patsy Simpson said she worried about the drop in SAT testing. She also did not understand why the district was de-emphasizing a test it had treated like a benchmark in past years.

   “I don’t see what you would do on a daily basis that is different whether it’s for the SAT or the ACT or the Common Core,” Simpson said. “It sounds like we’re jumping from one thing to the other.”

   Simpson said she was not sure colleges take the ACT as seriously as the SAT.

   Greg Zaiser, vice president of admissions at Elon University, said Elon does not favor one test over the other. But Elon, like many East Coast universities, has had more applicants send in SAT scores than ACT.

   Still, Zaiser said, Elon is getting a lot more ACT scores as more students from states in the Midwest and West apply and more students from North Carolina take the test.

   Bost said the best way to get more students taking the SAT is the more rigorous courses called for in the Common Core Standards to put them on the path to college.