Northumberland looking to boost SAT scores
While celebrating Northumberland County Public Schools’ full accreditation, one school leader acknowledged that work needed to be done to improve SAT scores at the high school.
For the 2012-2013 school year, Virginia public schools overall out-paced the national average on the SATS in critical reading (512 over 491), mathematics (511 over 503) and writing (494 over 480).
But Northumberland High School trailed both averages with scores of 431 in reading, 451 in math and 430 in writing.
“Virginia is leading in terms of its scores across the nation, and unfortunately Northumberland is not contributing to that high range where we would ultimately like to be,” said Dr. Travis Burns, who became Principal of NHS this year.
“Northumberland is one of the 36 school [divisions] that is fully accredited by the State of Virginia, so we’re very proud of that accomplishment,” Burns said. “But we do see a great deal of growth needed in terms of our students’ performance on the SATs.”
According to Burns, the high school has a plan in place to facilitate that growth.
Burns said that the PSAT tests, which historically have been given to just sophomores, is being administered this year to juniors as well.
Another measure Burns mentioned is having teachers stress appropriate test-taking strategies in classes.
Burns said he recently heard students talking about using “guess answers” on the multiple-choice portions of the test, or repeatedly choosing one letter from A, B, C and D for the questions they didn’t know.
“Kids shouldn’t be having those conversations because on the SAT, you’re not rewarded for guessing. You’re rewarded for correct answers,” said Burns. “We’re working to correct that by informing our children…they’re not rewarded for that, and so our students are of course taking that message in.”
In strengthening math scores, Burns pointed out Algebra II is the main subject tested on the SAT for mathematics. But most of Northumberland’s students, Burns noted, have not taken or just enrolled in Algebra II by the time that take the SAT.
“What we plan to do is encourage more students to enroll in the upper-level [math classes] at an earlier age so that they’re not exposed to questions that they don’t have remotely any inkling of how to answer,” said Burns, who added that math teachers are being encouraged to integrate SAT questions into their lesson plans.
To improve writing scores, Burns said the high school is motivating its English teachers to develop writing rubrics with uniform expectations.
“It’s my strong belief that if you have common expectations as to what you’re looking for in terms of writing, and if students can see that from middle school [to] 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade and 12th grade, that would greatly benefit our students in terms of performance…not only on the SATs but also on the [Standards of Learning].”
To bolster critical reading scores, Burns spoke to NHS promoting recreational reading, or reading for pure enjoyment, among its students.
“I find that a lot of kids are spending more time reading social media type things as opposed to the literature, the recreational reading that you would perhaps see on an SAT,” said Burns.
While he said that social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter were “good tools,” Burns noted that the SAT measures students’ reading endurance.
“If a student can’t read a passage because they don’t just have that will to get through that passage because they’re used to reading 140 characters on Twitter as opposed to the length of characters that’s on an SAT question, it’s going to be a challenge for them,” said Burns.