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NEWS RELEASES 2003-04 :: AUGUST 26, 2003


"Media and others often rank states, districts, and schools on the basis of SAT scores despite repeated warnings that such rankings are invalid. The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other non-school factors can have a strong effect on scores. If ranked, schools and states that encourage students to apply to college may be penalized because scores tend to decline with a rise in percentage of test takers."

North Carolina's SAT Score Increases Three Points; Breaks Thousand-Point Threshold

North Carolina's 2003 average total SAT score moved up three points, breaking the 1,000-point threshold for the first time. The national average increased by six points. The results were released today at a news conference held at the Education Building in Raleigh. The SAT is one of the major college entrance requirements for high school students, and is the entrance exam most often taken in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, the mathematics score increased by one point, to 506, while the verbal score increased by two points to 495, for a total score of 1,001.

The national mathematics score rose three points to 519 and the verbal score also increased by three points to 507 for a total score of 1026. North Carolina's verbal score is 12 points away from the nation's verbal score. The state's math score is 13 points away from the nation's math score.

North Carolina's SAT score of 1,001 exceeds the Southeast average score of 999, which increased by four points in 2003. The Southeast score includes scores from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

North Carolina's score continued to go up even as the participation rate of students increased. At 68 percent, North Carolina has the 13th largest (tied with Maryland) SAT participation rate in the nation. In 2002-03, 48,893 students in North Carolina took the SAT. This is up almost 6 percent from the previous year. Usually, students take the SAT during their junior and senior years of high school. Generally, among states, the higher the percentage of students taking the SAT, the lower the score.

North Carolina has improved its score each year since 1990, except in 1994 when there was no change. This improvement is particularly evident when considering 5- and 10-year trend data, which show North Carolina, with an increase of 19 points over five years and 37 points over 10 years, ranking third in overall score improvement for those states where 50 percent or more of students take the SAT.

State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said that the SAT is one of several important indicators the state uses to determine how well it is doing in preparing students for higher education. "The trend data indicate that North Carolina's school improvement efforts are paying off with sustained higher academic performances. We need to continue asking more from all of our students and encourage them to take rigorous courses - even if higher education is not in their future. Anything less is a disservice to the public school students of our state."

The College Board also released statewide results for Advanced Placement examinations. State Superintendent Mike Ward said that he was pleased more students were taking advantage of these college-preparatory courses and were scoring at higher levels on the final exams. "North Carolina experienced an almost 13 percent increase in the number of Advanced Placement exams taken in 2003. On top of this, the state experienced an almost 11 percent increase in the number of students scoring at the higher levels of 3, 4, and 5." Ward went on to point out that almost all racial groups saw an increase in the percentage of students taking exams and scoring at the higher levels, including American Indians, Asians, Blacks, Mexican Americans, other Hispanics and Whites.

In 2003, the average total score of North Carolina's Black students remained the same at 839. The average total scores of Black students nationally also remained the same at 857, leaving a gap of 18 points between the two groups.

North Carolina's score for Black students (839) is 211 points lower than the score of White students in this state (1050), increasing the gap between these two groups by four points from the previous year. Nationally, the Black-White gap increased by three points in 2003.

North Carolina's Hispanic students scored 961 in 2003, the same as the previous year's score. American Indian students in North Carolina improved their score by 9 points to 923. North Carolina Hispanic students scored 49 points higher than their national counterparts, while the state's American Indian students reduced the gap between their national counterparts from 48 points in 2002 to 39 points in 2003. The state's Asian American students scored 1052 and reduced the gap between their national counterparts by 13 points to 31.

The number of Hispanic and American Indian students taking the SAT in North Carolina is small. In 2003, 863 Hispanic students and 521 American Indian students took the SAT.

The College Board cautions against using the SAT as a gauge of overall state education performance. The College Board states that the SAT scores are useful in making decisions about individual students and their academic preparation for college and that it is "unfair" to use the scores to rank or rate teachers, educational institutions, districts or states. Average scores analyzed for a number of years can reveal trends in the academic preparation of students who take the SAT.

The SAT report presents results for students scheduled to graduate in 2003 and represents students' most recent scores, regardless of when they last took the test. The SAT measures a student's reasoning, verbal and math skills against the skills needed to be successful in freshman level college coursework. The primary use for SAT scores is as a tool for admissions officials at colleges and universities.

The only national measure of educational progress that allows for valid comparisons among states is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). On the 2002 NAEP Reading and Writing Assessments, North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders' average scores surpassed the national and Southeast average scores. North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders topped the national and Southeast average scores on NAEP's 2000 Mathematics Assessment. North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders performed consistent with the nation on NAEP's science tests in 2000. The fourth graders' average science score was the same as the nation's and above the Southeast's. North Carolina eighth graders' average science score was just below the national average but above the Southeast average.

Many North Carolina students do not take enough rigorous courses to prepare them to do well on the SAT. The College Board, which administers the SAT, cites students taking more rigorous courses early in their academic careers as the best preparation for the SAT.

The College Board reports that students who take higher level courses, more than the minimum required courses, and the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT) post higher SAT scores than their peers.

The College Board reports that the proportion of students taking the test is the most important factor to consider in interpreting SAT scores for a state, school or district. For most schools, annual score changes are not as significant as trends over time.

To view the full 2003 SAT report, please click here.

For additional information, contact your local school system or the Division of Accountability Services' Reporting Section at DPI at 919.807.3769.

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.