SAT scores across the Blaine County School District dipped to a four-year low in 2019, while a gap in proficiency between the white and Hispanic students grew, according to a preliminary analysis by district staff presented to the school board Tuesday night.
Both trends irked members of the board, and, led by Trustee Kevin Garrison, they demanded to know why.
“The gap is just too big,” Garrison told administrators. “It’s really sad for me to see, to be honest with you. We’re making unique investments, and there’s a huge drop among Hispanic students. This is not acceptable, from my perspective. … I want to know what administration and staff are doing.”
Taking the test as 11th-graders in January, only 28 percent of Hispanic students met the Idaho benchmark for college readiness in “evidence-based reading and writing,” long called “verbal”—a 15
percentage-point drop from last year; 72 percent of non-Hispanic students cleared the bar.
Math proficiency went up one percentage point for each subgroup, though overall, fewer students met the benchmark: just 16 percent of Hispanic students and 43 percent of non-Hispanic students.
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, according to initial results released by the state Department of Education last month.
Districtwide, 54 percent of students identify as white, 42 percent as Hispanic.
“We have just received the results,” said Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Angie Martinez. “We’re going to do a deep dive into causal factors. We don’t know the root cause just yet.”
With perfect performance set at 800, all juniors across the BCSD’s three high schools averaged 492 in verbal and 486 in math. (Raw scores by race are not yet available.)
Their overall score of 977 was one point higher than the state mean score of 976, out of a possible 1,600.
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 verbal and 509 in math. That was 51 points—nearly 5 percent—higher than this time around.
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, Data and Assessment Coordinator Marcia Grabow said when the results were first released in June.
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. And, the state of Idaho pays testing fees for one day a year, which it calls the SAT School Day. 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 at the time.
Trustee Rob Clayton acknowledged the impact of higher participation in an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, but said he still expected better results overall.
“It goes to preparation, and I’m not sure what our preparation strategy is,” he said. “I’m not sure whether the value of this test is being communicated, or whether some kids are there because they have to be.
“To me, it comes down to motivation. The achievement gap is overall addressable by motivating kids to take on what’s in front of them, to see the advantages and the opportunities that are available. I’m not telling teachers how to do that, but I’d like to see some answers.”
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, according to Grabow.
Both Grabow and Martinez intend to meet with teachers to discuss strategies when staff members return in August.
“You’re not happy,” Martinez said to the board. “We’re not comfortable. And I can tell you that teachers aren’t going to be either once they see this data.”
But Garrison’s frustration was plain.
“For three years, I’ve heard this information, and it’s always been the same--‘We’ll look at the data, and report back,” he said. “My concern is that the methodology doesn’t seem to be working. Something’s broken.”