A report by the Blaine County School District shows that the number of juniors taking the SAT college entrance exam rose 21 percent in the past two years and that their average SAT scores were down.
“In general, as participation increases, test scores go down since stronger students have traditionally been the ones taking the SAT,” stated a memo issued by the district July 19.
The state of Idaho measured “college readiness,” based on SAT scores, and found it far lower for Hispanic students than for non-Hispanic students.
The School District is actively addressing the shortfall for what are called “English-language learners” in the classroom.
Blaine County School District student participation in the SAT increased from 69 percent in April 2016 to 90 percent in April 2017.
SAT participation in all of Idaho increased from 85 percent to 90 percent during the same period.
With the increased number of tested students, average SAT scores in the district dropped from 517 to 506 for evidence-based reading and writing skills, and from 509 to 491 for math skills.
Idaho’s overall SAT test results for reading and writing dropped from 511 to 506, whereas overall scores for math increased from 491 to 492.
This year, 130 non-Hispanic and 89 Hispanic students took the SAT in Blaine County, a ratio roughly equivalent to the 40 percent Hispanic student population.
Hispanic student test scores for college readiness in reading and writing averaged 31 percent, compared to a 78 percent average score for non-Hispanic students.
Hispanic student college readiness scores for math averaged 31 percent, compared to 78 percent for non-Hispanic students.
“It’s a very large achievement gap,” said Blaine County School District Data and Assessment Coordinator Marcia Grabow.
“To be college-ready requires students’ expectations to begin in kindergarten, what classes they take and what academic content they have access to,” she said.
The achievement gap exists across multiple assessment measures. Grabow said low test scores among Hispanic students are an issue that the district has been facing in the last few years and will likely be addressing well into the future.
“Being Hispanic isn’t necessarily a risk factor for low test scores,” said School District Communications Director Heather Crocker. “But the School District does use the Hispanic student body population as a proxy for students in situations where they are learning English as a second language and are in poverty.”
Grabow said classroom teachers are not allowed to know whether a student has low socio-economic status, but that the School District is aware that being an English-language learner contributes to low academic performance.
“They may not know how to speak English, but they know how to think,” she said.
Angie Martinez, the director of curriculum and teaching at the district, said a three-year-old “co-teaching” program for all grade levels that is geared toward keeping English-learners in the classroom is showing positive results.
“All schools in our district believe this is a better model. We have other schools across the state taking a look at our model,” Martinez said.
Rather than following the conventional practice of pulling students with low English proficiency out of the classroom for separate study, the School District has been training an English Language Development teacher and a general classroom teacher to co-teach together to keep the class intact.
“As a result, I have seen students who are English- learners feel more confident about their ability to undertake advanced-level coursework,” said Martinez. “I have also seen students aspire to extend education beyond high school.”
Martinez said a maximum of 40 percent of English-language learners are allowed in a classroom in order to maintain “rigorous” standards for all students.
“We have had a mindset change in the district. We are all responsible and working together to help English-learners to gain the academic language they need to perform at high levels,” she said.