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County school officials say students' lackluster performance on the 1990 Scholastic Aptitude Tests stems primarily from their demographicmakeup and has little to do with skill levels.

On the verbal portion of the test, the county average was up two points to 425, three points higher than the national average but lagging behind the state's429 average.

In math, county students' average dropped a point from last year to 483, compared to state and national averages of 475 and 474.

Officials from the College Board Admissions Testing Program released the 1990 scores last week.

County educators attributed the so-so scores to an increase in the number of students taking the test and on the diverse backgrounds of those students. More than 55 percent of thecounty's class of 1990 took the SAT.

"Our scores have fluctuated up and down over the last nine years," said Thomas Rhoades, director of school management information services. "The changes I see are pretty much what I would expect. The current SAT scores are being compared to students who entered college in 1941. There are sizable differences.

"Basically, at that time it was wealthy white men taking thetest. For someone to say to me that scores have declined, I say, 'Yeah, so what?' We don't just have wealthy white men going to college in 1991. All of the students do not have the same background experiences."

Rhoades said students who are making A's and B's in school generally do well on the test. But he said he is concerned about average students, who may not be prepared for the exams because of limited experiences and poor preparation.

North County Principal William Wentworth says the test is culturally biased. At his school, 35 percent of the students took the exam.

"We have many (students) who do not fit the characteristics of the middle-class American," Wentworth said. "Studies will show that student scores have nothing to do with innate intelligence. But the higher socio-economic backgrounds usuallymeans better performance because these students have an opportunity to be involved in a broad range of things."

"It is not a true measure of student academic performance. It doesn't measure attitude or work ethic."

Each year, results of the 2 1/2-hour exam are used to project how well a student will do in the first year of college. The test uses multiple-choice questions.

Since most students are encouraged to take the exam, Rhoades said, educators are focusing on how to make sure all students perform well.

"Our concerns will focus onwhat we can do for those students receiving C's and below," Rhoades said. "We need to give serious concern to issues of equity for a large number of students with non-traditional preparation. How do we helpthe student who decides to take algebra in the 10th or 11th grade? The student who had it in the seventh grade's score would be vastly different.

"What do we do for the student whose basic outside experience consists of talking on the telephone and watching television? In1941, students were reading books. It's still based on those test scores."

A new testing program is scheduled to be introduced in 1994, after three years of research and testing by a task force formed bythe College Board. The new test is expected to increase emphasis on critical reading and reasoning. Questions will require students to produce their own responses, a change from the traditional multiple choice, and the test will permit the use of a calculator.

SAT SCORES 1990-1991

.. .. .. No.. .. Verbal.. .. Math

.. .. .. .. tested. mean. .. .. mean

Male.. .. .. 1,004.. 425.. .. .. 499

Female .. .. 1,171.. 426.. .. .. 469

Asian. .. .. ..105.. 407.. .. .. 523

Black. .. .. ..168.. 350.. .. .. 385

White. .. .. 1,692.. 437.. .... 492

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