The just-released SAT scores for students in Flagler County show another drop, the third in a row going back to 2013, and a significant decline since a 12-year high in 2005. The SAT is a critical test for students hoping to go to college.
Combined reading and math scores fell to 869 in 2016, down 25 points from last year, and down a staggering 143 points from Flagler’s average scores in 2005, the last time the reading and math totals were above 1,000. The districtwide average in reading was 440, and in math it was 429.
Scores have dropped nationally and in the state, but not nearly as much: the average reading and math score nationally was 1002 this year, down four points from a year ago and down 26 points from 2005. (The national reading average was 495, and the math average was 508.) The average combined score in Florida was 956, down 10 points from a year ago and 40 points from 2005.
Local school officials point to two factors that at least partly explain the drop. First, scores have been dropping nationwide. The College Board introduced a new test in March 2016, making the essay portion optional. Test results typically show a slight decline when new standardized tests are introduced, though the majority of scores reflect tests taken before the change.
Second, the number of students in the district taking the test has nearly doubled in the past two years. Usually to take the test, students would have to take the initiative themselves, register, pay the $45 to $57 fee (it’s higher when paid on test day), and make their way to a testing location on the given Saturday when it’s offered. That has generally filtered out a lot of students either because they can’t afford it or because they don’t think they’re on a college track, even though the test itself might be a strong indicator of whether they should consider college or not.
Starting in 2014, the district and the College Board instituted an SAT Day in Flagler schools, making test-taking all but mandatory and free for all 11th graders one day of the year, and scheduling that day during the regular school schedule rather than on a Saturday. That has brought in many students who previously would not have taken the test, inevitably lowering the overall average score. In 2014, the last year before SAT Day, Flagler Palm Coast High School tested 259 students, Matanzas tested 238. The following year, FPC tested 546 and Matanzas tested 366, for a total of 912.
“It’s a good way to expose students to an acceleration opportunity,” Superintendent Jacob Oliva said. He wasn’t overly concerned about the SAT scores for that reason: the district is using the SAT test for different purposes, exposing students to capabilities they might have otherwise not discovered, even if, for other students, taking the test won’t have the same effect. The test, in other words, is an opportunity: “We might identify students that might have the aptitude to be in certain programs,” Oliva said.
Shawn Schmidli, the district’s testing coordinator, said the scores can be used to alert faculty about students who need more attention, especially if they have decided on a college track. The results can also be used to detect students who thought they were not on a college track, but should be. With their results, they can be steered toward more appropriate and more rigorous course work.
“That was something we anticipated,” Schmidli said of the dropping scores. “We thought the benefit of having those students take the exam outweighed the difference in numbers.”
The next step is to translate the data into curriculum plans for students. “We know if we push students in those directions they might be successful,” Oliva said, “and a lot of times students don’t realize they might be successful and this is a good indicator that might tell them that.”
Neither high school in the district has SAT preparatory classes, but they do offer critical thinking classes, which can achieve similar ends, Oliva said.
Nationally, 1.36 million students took the test in 2016, an increase of 180,000, which would also tend to depress results.
The test also has included a writing component, with Flagler students’ average score dropping to 424 in 2016, from 432, 28 points lower than the state average and 58 points lower than the national average.
Looking at Flagler County’s numbers more closely, FPC’s average reading score was 438—a drop of just two points from last year, but 50 points over five years–compared to 444 at Matanzas, a drop of 23 points from last year, and 47 points in five years. In Math, the FPC average score was 425, a 55-point drop over the past five years, and a four-point drop from the previous year. At Matanzas, the math average was 435, a 29-point drop from last year, and a 46 point drop from five years ago.
Girls in Flagler score better than boys in reading, but not as well in math: girls’ average reading score in reading was 449, compared to 432 for boys. In math, it was 426 for girls and 433 for boys. But over the past five years, boys’ scores dropped more steeply than girls’ scores.
This afternoon, Oliva’s office announced that he would be delivering this year’s “State of Education” presentation to the school board on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 6:15 p.m. in board chambers at the Government Services Building, following a 4 p.m. workshop of the board. That day’s regular school board meeting will start at 5 p.m.