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SAT Scores Show That Income, Study Of Arts, Language Give Edge

By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER | Courant Staff Writer

August 27, 2008

Some of the best SAT scores in Connecticut are posted by students who study Chinese or Latin, participate in the arts, take honors courses, come from wealthy families, and at least when it comes to math hold citizenship from another country, according to scores for the class of 2008 released Tuesday.

The data, released by the College Board, which produces the college-entrance exam, detailed the performance of 1.5 million students nationwide who graduated from high school this year, including 36,085 in Connecticut.

As a whole, Connecticut students scored slightly above the national average in reading, slightly below it in math, and well above it in writing. But gaps by race and income persisted, troubling education officials.

The average scores for state public school students rose three points in math, one point in reading and three points in writing over last year.

Seventy-six percent of public school students in Connecticut took the test, the third-highest of any state and well above the national average for public school students, 39 percent. That may be in part because of regional differences, according to the state Department of Education, which noted that the ACT college entrance exam is more popular in the Midwest.

In a written statement, state Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan said he was pleased by the strong scores and high participation rate, which he said indicated a large number of students who aspire to attend college. But McQuillan also said he was troubled by enduring gaps in performance between white and minority students.

"We need to find better ways to prepare our black and Hispanic students for college and new ways to engage them in learning," McQuillan said. "This begins with guaranteed access to the PSAT, better preparatory courses for the SAT and a new look at how high schools are structured to meet the needs of all students."

State education officials are working on proposals to reshape the state's high schools by increasing the number of credits and specific courses required for graduation and emphasizing more personalized classrooms to engage students.

Connecticut students in public and private schools averaged 509 on reading, 513 on math, and 513 on writing on the exam, which has a maximum score of 800 in each category. The national average, by contrast, was 502 on reading, 515 on math, and 494 on writing. The state's strong writing performance may reflect Connecticut long history of including writing on its standardized tests, something that many other states have not done until recently.Scores in Connecticut correlated strongly with family income and parents' education levels, as well as other measures including involvement in the arts and foreign language study.

SAT scores have long been correlated along racial lines, reflecting gaps that also appear in Connecticut's own standardized tests. Critics have pointed to disparities in scores among minority and low-income students in questioning the SAT's validity.

With the exception of Asian students, minority students in Connecticut's class of 2008 trailed their white counterparts. White students scored, on average, 529 in reading, 533 in math, and 533 in writing, and Asian students scored 523 in reading, 586 in math, and 536 in writing.

Black students averaged 419 in reading, 407 in math, and 420 in writing. Puerto Rican, Mexican and other Hispanic students also posted lower scores than white or Asian students, averaging below 500 in each category.

The wealthiest students, whose families earned more than $200,000, had an average score more than 140 points higher in each section than the poorest test takers, whose family income was less than $20,000.

The income gap was visible even between students whose families fell into the second-highest income bracket $160,000 to $200,000 and those whose families earned more than $200,000; on average, the higher-income students scored more than 25 points higher in each category.

However, that represented a limited sample of the students; only 56 percent of the test-takers provided information about their family income.

U.S. citizens outperformed students who are citizens of other countries in reading and writing, but not in math; the average score for an American student was 509, while students who are citizens of other countries averaged 545.

Students who participated in acting, music, studio art or photography scored well above students who weren't involved in the arts. And students who took more than four years of foreign language posted higher average scores on all sections than those with fewer years. Those who took Chinese and Latin, in particular, posted the highest average scores among students taking languages.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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