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Average statewide SAT scores drop

Average SAT scores for public school seniors in Rhode Island — and across the country — dropped this year, but the lower scores are not a reflection of intelligence, experts are saying.

College-bound public school seniors' average scores dropped by three points to 482 in critical reading, by six points to 482 in mathematics and by four points to 474 in writing from last year, according to the College Board's website.

Average scores for seniors attending public, independent or religious high schools only dropped in one category — mathematics — by two points. In critical reading and writing, the average rose by one point.

"It doesn't mean the kids are getting stupider," said Mark Greenstein, founder and principal instructor of Ivy Bound Test Prep. "They're forcing more kids to take the tests, and those kids have no business taking the test because they're not going to a four-year college or university."

Of the 21 states where Ivy Bound Test Prep offers courses, Rhode Island has the lowest levels of enrollment, Greenstein said — but he does not know why. "I've heard either Rhode Islanders are cheap, and Rhode Islanders don't push their students to go to college as much as people in Boston or New York," he said.

"It's true that families in Rhode Island aren't as likely to succumb to the pressure" of putting their child through rigorous test preparation as parents in more metropolitan areas, said Ralph Wales, headmaster of the Gordon School, an independent school in East Providence. "There isn't the same level of concern in Rhode Island, but there is still a level of concern."

Score comparisons indicate that Rhode Islanders fared similar on the test to students in Massachusetts or New York. Instead, scores in midwestern states, such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, best New England states by margins of around 100 points in each section of the test, according to the College Board website. The higher scores correspond to low participation rates in the region, where the ACT is the more prevalent college-entrance exam.

Classical High School, a public school in West Providence, defies the nationwide and statewide trend — the school has seen its students' scores rise over the past few years. While many students at Classical enroll in SAT-prep courses through the Princeton Review and Kaplan, Louis Toro, the school's director of counseling and guidance, said the high scores reflect the more rigorous classroom experience offered at the exam school — a special school focused on preparing students for college.

"It's curriculum-driven, and I think it's letting more and more kids take part in (Advanced Placement) courses," Toro said.

Hope High School, a public school in East Providence, advocates SAT prep through mailings and assemblies, but Jimps Jean, a counselor at the school, noted that many students struggle to complete those courses. "Some of the students that start with the SAT prep — they don't finish because of the responsibilities they have outside of the school," he said.

"Testing is something that you learn how to do," he added. When students take the test without sufficient practice, "it's like coming to a foreign language," he said.

Students now have the option of only submitting their best scores to colleges, so they are more likely to retake the exam, said Maya Bretzius '12, co-director of ReadySetLearn, a program that helps low-income students around the country prepare for college.

Before, students were more hesitant to take the test without proper preparation because they did not want colleges to see lower scores. The option of only sending the best scores to colleges now allows some students, especially more affluent ones, to take the test multiple times until they get their desired score, she said.

Eighty-seven percent of students who take the SAT do so no more than twice, wrote Kathleen Steinberg, spokesperson for the College Board, in an email to The Herald. Of the remaining 13 percent, the majority do not take it more than three times.

Students are also preparing for the test earlier, Greenstein said. "We're almost a full year earlier in the cycle for getting prepped than 20 years ago."

Bretzius suggested that people keep low scores in perspective. "It's not like it's the end of education in the U.S.," she said.

She added that rising participation rates are a good sign. "More people are thinking about college and considering going to college than ever before," she said.


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