Apparent good news from the Virginia Department of Education: Virginia public school graduates in 2016 continued to buck a multi-year national trend of lower achievement on the SAT college-admissions test.
According to a VDOE press release (no link), the commonwealth’s public school graduates outscored their nationwide peers on all three subsections of the college-admissions test:
• Virginia’s public school mean score in reading of 516 was 29 points higher.
• Virginia’s public school mean score in mathematics of 513 was 19 points higher.
• Virginia’s public school mean score in writing of 493 was 21 points higher.
“With the redesign of the SAT this year, the performance of Virginia’s 2016 graduating seniors caps a decade-long trend of increased achievement,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said. “The challenge now as the commonwealth revises its diploma standards is to maintain strong academic performance while expanding the high school experience to include the 21st-century skills demanded by today’s employers.”
Why would Virginia college-bound students out-perform their national peers by an ever-growing margin? Are Virginia public schools really doing a better job of teaching? It would be comforting to think so.
There is so much gamesmanship in educational achievement numbers, however, one would be forgiven for wanting to take a closer look.
One variable that affects median SAT scores is the percentage of the student body that takes the test. A higher percentage suggests that a school system is dipping deeper into the pool of academic talent; students with poorer academic performance are likely to drag down the scores. Inside Higher Ed notes that more students are taking the test nationally than ever before. That could explain some of the national decline. The VDOE press release noted that 65% of Virginia public school graduates took the exam, but did not note whether that was higher or lower than the previous year. So, the question remains open.
SAT scores broken down by race/ethnicity give the same old story. Asians out-perform all other groups. Whites follow fairly close behind, Hispanics lag, and blacks do the worst. “Outcomes are not improving for far too many students of color,” said Board of Education President Billy K. Cannaday Jr. “Narrowing and ultimately closing these gaps is the state board’s top priority.”