GHS SAT Score Worries

Drop in students taking test and sagging scores have district
officials scratching their heads
Gilroy – Greg Camacho-Light hopes he made a mistake.

The Gilroy High School vice principal took the initiative and calculated the class of 2005’s SAT scores before the California Department of Education released its annual report and the resulting data wasn’t welcome news: SAT scores declined at GHS.

Even worse, according to Camacho-Light’s calculations, fewer students took the test.

“If my numbers hold up, (the scores are) disappointing, so it’s one of those things that I hope I’m wrong,” he said Tuesday.

Camacho-Light staged a Power Point presentation detailing the senior’s SAT scores during a recent board meeting. Since the state doesn’t usually release the new SAT scores until October, Camacho-Light averaged the raw data from individual seniors who took the SAT during the 2004-2005 school year and compared it to the senior’s scores from the previous year.

The final numbers showed that of the 122 tests taken in 2004, only 62 scored higher than 1,000 compared to 2003 when 188 tests were taken and 96 students scored 1,000 or higher.

That the total number of seniors increased from 493 to 549, yet the number of students who took the SAT decreased is also a serious concern. Typically, if fewer teens take the SAT, the scores increase, said Camacho-Light.

Trustee Tom Bundros did some research on his own and discovered that since the mid-1990s GHS has experienced a downward trend on SAT scores. Bundros looked at data dating back to 1987 and compared GHS’ scores with the county, state and nation.

Compared to the state average GHS didn’t fare too well either. In August, CDE announced that the class of 2005 had improved on both the verbal and math sections of the exam. Also, the number of SAT takers rose from 139,000 to 146,877 or 5.5 percent.

Before the new SAT was first administered in March the college entrance exam was divided into two sections. A perfect score was 1600 or 800 in verbal and math. On the new SAT – which eliminated analogies and added an essay portion – students can score a maximum of 2,400.

GHS Principal James Maxwell said school officials are scratching their heads over the sagging scores reported at the board meeting.

“It was puzzling to everybody there,” he said.

School officials are looking at several factors that may have contributed to the decline. The high school experienced a significant increase in the number of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program, said Camacho-Light. Because those students hail from households that sit lower on the socioeconomic grid, they’re less likely to be on the college-prep track. That makes it more difficult but it shouldn’t skew the numbers that much, he said.

Bundros said he wants to look at the changing demographics at GHS because through his research he discovered that before the 1990s, SAT scores were improving.

Whether or not Camacho-Light’s numbers are correct Maxwell wants to see more students head off to college. Working closely with CalSoap, a state program that helps low income students apply for college, is one element he’s pursuing.

One Gilroy resident and parent wasn’t impressed with the scores released but what bothered her even more was that she considered the whole report covert. In an e-mail she said she was convinced that district officials intentionally made the presentation confusing so no one would understand it.

Camacho-Light said that’s simply untrue.

“We’re not hiding anything,” he said. “It’s really a matter of ‘How do we divulge it all and make it make sense.’ ”

Camacho-Light said he only showed the senior statistics because most students take the test a couple of times and CDE bases its comparisons on the senior scores. Also, juniors took the new SAT so the GHS officials are still trying to decipher the best way to compare two different exams.

Camacho-Light said many things should come to light once district officials dig further. Hopefully they can figure out how many seniors took the test. The data is confusing since it doesn’t specify whether that number is actually the number of students tested or the number of tests taken, he said. Students can take the SAT more than once during the year.

The board has asked for a more in-depth report and Camacho-Light said he should have those numbers ready next month.

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