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Letter to the Editor

Sinking SAT Scores demand real reforms

web posted August 26, 2009
Dear Editor,
Parents and Taxpayers in South Carolina were subject to yet-more bad news about student achievement in their state's monolithic public school system on Tuesday. Results of the SAT college preparation and evaluation test for 2009 were released and South Carolinians learned that public school students continued their steady three-year long slide in average scores.

According to data released by the College Board, the nonprofit testing organization that administers the exam, students at South Carolina public schools earned an average score of 1445 points, 64 points below the national average score of 1509 points.

In all, 25,217 students in South Carolina took the SAT, up slightly from 23,066 last year. The average scores of the 19,534 public school students were: Critical Reading - 482; Mathematics - 496; and Writing - 467. Based on the "old" two-subject model, the public school average was 978, and the three-subject average was 1445.

In North Carolina, the public school average SAT score was 1479 (or 1003 in the old system). That is 34 points above South Carolina public schools average. There were 45,376 public school students in North Carolina who took the test in 2009. In Georgia, the public school average SAT score was 1450 (or 975 in the old system). That is 5 points above the South Carolina public schools average. Over 47,000 public school students in Georgia took the test in 2009 - or nearly double the number of students in South Carolina.

The bad news comes just days after reports of a similar drop in ACT and news of an expanding achievement gap along race and income lines at public elementary and middle schools.

While students trapped in South Carolina's most persistently under-performing schools received shockingly low scores (such as 1162 in Florence District Four), the scores at the so-called "best" public schools in South Carolina still failed to rank competitively with SAT scores earned by similarly populated public schools in other states.

Consider Anderson School District 3, where only seven students took the test, ranked first in South Carolina, where public school students earned an average SAT score of 1088 on the Verbal and Math portions of the SAT test. Not only did most magnet and charter schools in North Carolina beat out South Carolina's "best" school district, even the traditional neighborhood public schools in Chapel Hill and Watauga did much better. In the case of Chapel Hill, the public school students in North Carolina beat their "best" South Carolina public school peers by almost 100 points.

Public schools in South Carolina are projected to spend $11,242 per student this year, while the figure in neighboring North Carolina is close to $8,500. The Budget and Control estimates that a mere 44 cents per dollar spent reaches into public school classrooms.

Private schools in South Carolina, where just one-in-ten students attend school, fluctuated slightly this year, but still earned an average score of 1535 - or 90 points above the South Carolina public school average and 26 above the all-schools national average.

"Once again we have frustrating evidence about the need to more student-specific instruction and parental engagement" explained Randy Page, President of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a watchdog group advocating for a more parent-focused system of K-12 education. "Only when we smartly focus our efforts and resources on students -not the system- can we begin the long journey toward the type of educational policy and achievement students in South Carolina deserve."

Neil Mellen
Communications Director
South Carolinians for Responsible Government

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