Harford SAT math scores gain; AP participation up 20 percent

Harford County high school students who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, in the 2011-12 school year showed a small improvement in average math scores, but they also posted small declines in average scores on the critical reading and writing sections of the test.

With high school enrollment remaining steady, Harford County Public Schools also saw a significant rise in Advanced Placement course enrollment and participation in AP tests in 2012, the county school system said Monday.

Overall, the county composite SAT average for the last school year beat both the Maryland state and U.S. averages, according to data released Monday by the College Board, which administers the SAT, long considered a major component of college admissions decisions.

According to the data, Harford's 2012 test takers scored an average of 1,500 on the three components of the test, just one point behind the 2011 average for the school system. The test is scored on 2,400 total points, 800 for each of the three sections; however, each section is actually scored from 200 to 800.

Harford's 2012 SAT composite average was 13 points better than the Maryland state average of 1,487, as reported Monday by the state department of education, and two points better than the national average of 1,498, reported by the College Board.

On the individual tests that make up the SAT, Harford's 2012 test takers beat the state and national averages in two and finished behind them in a third.

Harford's average SAT math score for 2012 was 516, up four points for 2011. The average math score for Maryland was 502, while the U.S. average for math was 514. Both state and national averages for math were unchanged from 2011, according to the College Board and the state education department.

Harford's average SAT critical reading score for 2012 was 503, down four points from 2011. The state average in critical reading was 497, down two points, and the U.S. average was 496, down one point.

Harford's average SAT writing score for 2012 was 481, down one point from 2011. This is one area where Harford's 2012 test takers finished below the state and national averages, which were both 488, a decline of three points for the state and a decline of one point nationally. This test was added to the original core "math/verbal" SAT in 2006.

The Harford school system said in a news release Monday that the participation in the SAT "remained relatively the same from the previous year." In 2012, 1,583 students took the SAT, while 1,585 took the test in 2011.

Statewide, 47,467 students took the SAT in 2011-12, according to the state department of education, which likewise said the 2012 participation was "relatively flat" compared to 2011.

'Readiness' benchmark

Long a subject of debate about its usefulness and fairness, the SAT has nonetheless been used in college admissions decisions for six decades.

In recent years, the College Board has been using a benchmark of a 1,550 combined SAT score as a predictor of what it calls "college readiness."

"The SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark was developed based on rigorous research analyzing the SAT scores and college performance of a nationally representative student sample at more than 100 colleges and universities," according to information posted on the College Board's website. "The SAT Benchmark score of 1550 (Critical Reading, Mathematics and Writing score combined) indicates a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B-[minus] average or higher during the first year of college, which in turn is indicative of a high likelihood of college success and completion."

"College Board research also shows that students who meet or exceed the SAT Benchmark have a substantially higher college retention rate than those students who do not attain the SAT Benchmark," the website information continues. "Furthermore, students who attain the SAT Benchmark are highly likely to achieve strong scores on AP Exams, which measure performance of college-level course work taken in high school."

Harford County Public Schools said it expects to post 2012 SAT averages for individual schools with each school's profile on the school system's website

AP participation up sharply

According to Monday's HCPS news release, 1,824 Harford high school students took the AP assessment in 2012, a 20 percent increase over 2011.

In addition, AP courses had a 12 percent rise in enrollment with 4,591 students taking the advanced classes, many enrolled in multiple AP courses.

"Our Board of Education remains focused on college and career readiness for all students, and as a system, we are working tirelessly to raise the bar for success on these national tests each year," Harford Superintendent Robert Tomback said in the release. "The increased level of AP participation in Harford County illustrates that our students understand and value the importance of setting goals and preparing for their future."

Also on the rise is the number of exams that scored at "college mastery level," a score of 3 to 5 (5 being the highest score) at 64 percent — more than four percent over the previous year and on par with Maryland and national averages.

Students who achieve this performance level can qualify for credit at many colleges and universities.

The number of AP exams administered in all Harford County high schools also saw an increase — 27 percent — rising to 2,946 in 2012 from 2,319 in 2011.

In 2011, one out of every four HCPS students in grades 10 through 12 were enrolled in at least one AP class, and one in six took an AP exam, the school system said.

According to the state department of education, 63,000 Maryland public school students took at least one AP test in 2012, while a total of 116,614 AP tests were administered statewide last year, both increases of 5.4 percent compared to 2011.

"College Readiness Coordinators in every high school work with faculty to promote high expectations for all students," Keri Guilbault, coordinator of accelerated programs, said in the HCPS news release. "SAT and AP prep courses, after-school tutoring, summer readiness programs and family engagement have contributed to our students' success."

This story has been corrected from an earlier version to reflect that the difference beween the Harford and state composite averages was 13 points.

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