SAT scores across the Blaine County School District dipped to a four-year low in 2019, but remained narrowly ahead of state averages as Idaho saw an even starker drop, according to data released Monday by the State Department of Education from its free SAT School Day this spring.

With perfect performance set at 800, juniors across the BCSD’s three high schools averaged 492 in “evidence-based reading and writing,” long called “verbal,” and 486 in math. Their overall score of 978 was two points higher than the state mean score of 976, out of a possible 1,600.

Statewide, test-takers av-eraged 496 in English and 480 in math.

Locally, reading and writing dipped 11 points off last year’s mark, a decline of about 2 percent. Math scores increased by 3 points—less than 1 percent.

The College Board classifies a score of 480 in English and 530 in math as “college ready,” meaning students who reach those marks have a 75 percent chance of earning at least a C in a first-semester, full-credit college class.

Fewer than 1 in 3 test takers met both benchmarks in Blaine County; nearly half met neither. Both are slightly worse than the statewide figures.

The 2019 scores mark the lowest figure since the College Board, which administers the test, reconfigured its format in 2016. That year, Blaine County students averaged 517 in language and 509 in math—50 points higher than this time around, nearly 5 percent.

But just under 70 percent of 11th-graders took the test during the spring in 2016—a self-selected number of students who intended to go on to college, according to Data and Assessment Coordinator Marcia Grabow.

Now, the Blaine County School District requires 11th-graders to take a college entrance exam to graduate, and nearly all sit for the SAT or its counterpart, the ACT. Ninety-one percent of this year’s cohort took the test in the spring—the highest participation rate in the history of the district, Grabow said.

“In those earlier years, when scores look so strong, we didn’t have high participation,” she said. “As more students take it who weren’t trying to go to college, it’s not surprising to see that number go down.”

Grabow got her first look at the scores Monday morning, and plans to present a more detailed analysis to the school board during its July 16 meeting next month. Schools get reports on individual students from the College Board, as well as a rough breakdown of which areas students did well in and which areas need improvement.

The School District doesn’t specifically teach to the SAT—or ACT, or, for that matter, the state-issued ISAT, Grabow said. It bases lessons on national Common Core standards. But the College Board revamped the SAT to align more closely with those guidelines, Grabow said.

“The ACT is different than the SAT is different than the ISAT, but the underlying skills they’re evaluating is the same—college and career readiness,” she said.

So, one way to figure out how to raise scores, according to Grabow and Angie Martinez, director of curriculum, teaching and learning, is to study the test itself.

“Having a clear understanding of what’s on the test does help prioritize what we do in the classroom,” Martinez said. “It beckons a deep conversation with our teachers. We need to look at the results themselves, rather than scores or percentiles. That’s where you see which topic areas were strengths and which were weaknesses—and we can consider what it means for our curriculum.”

Both Martinez and Grabow intend to prioritize that work when teachers return prior to next year.

“We need to invest more time in that particular analysis this year,” Grabow said. “It’s very time-intensive to work with data—it’s a complicated process. But that analysis, working side-by-side with teachers, is a needed next step.”

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