An MCPS report on SAT and ACT scores (Participation and Performance Trends of College Admission Examinations in the Classes of 2007 to 2011, 7/12) found increases in ACT only test taking, although scores dropped off as ACT tests taken by low income students doubled and did not meet the MCPS proficiency standard. The report recommended MCPS place an emphasis on ACT results similar to the SAT.
Poverty correlates with lower test scores in the Down County (DCC) and North East County Consortiums (NEC). Because of the emphasis MCPS places on SAT scores, DCC schools and some others counsel students with low PSATs to take the ACT instead. As a result they have higher SAT scores and a low average SAT participation rate (51%, excluding Blair because of its magnate student population).
Alternatively, NEC schools encourage SAT participation. NEC’s high average poverty rate average is still lower than DCC’s (56% vs. 73%). However, because of their much higher participation rate (74%), NEC average SAT scores were only slightly higher than DCC schools (1469 vs. 1454 in 2010-11). A comparison to Fairfax County schools that have high poverty rates (>50%) found higher average SAT scores (1523), and higher participation rates (61%) than the DCC.
SAT scores are used by parents when selecting among schools, but they need to be cautiously look at the participation rates for comparability. Also, ACT scores are not made available in Schools at a Glance and parents cannot tell if a large segment of students are college ready, or which schools are doing a better job.
Has either Consortium lived up to the hope that managed competition, and a decade of focused efforts and higher spending have reduced the achievement gap for college preparation? It now appears that instead of innovative strategies, MCPS selectively enriched SAT participation and withheld ACT scores from the public to make results look better.
The County Council is sponsoring an update to its 2009 review of the achievement gap in the DCC and NEC, looking at SAT and ACT scores, and best practices. This should set the stage for a larger independent performance and cost review of MCPS that answers questions about how “one size fits all” strategies and performance measures help kids achieve, who is left out, and cost- effective strategies to prepare kids for alternate career success.
Gordie Brenne, Board Member, Montgomery County Taxpayers League (a non-profit, non-partisan organization)