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NEWS RELEASES 2001-02 :: AUGUST 28, 2001


"Media and others often rank states, districts, and schools on the basis of SAT scores despite repeated warnings that such rankings are invalid. The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other nonschool factors can have a strong effect on scores. If ranked, schools and states that encourage students to apply to college may be penalized because scores tend to decline with a rise in percentage of test takers."

North Carolina SAT Score Increases Four Points; Nation Up One Point

While the nation gained only one point, North Carolina's average total SAT score moved up four points in 2000-01, continuing the upward trend that the state has experienced since 1989. State Superintendent Mike Ward and State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk released SAT scores today at a news briefing in Raleigh.

In North Carolina, the mathematics score increased by three points, to 499, while the verbal score went up by one point to 493, for a total score of 992. The state has improved its total score each year since 1989, except in 1994 when there was no change from the previous year.

The nation's one-point gain was in the verbal score. The national mathematics score is 514 and the verbal score is 506 for a total of 1020.

North Carolina has the 12th largest (tied with Maryland) participation rate of SAT takers in the nation. In 2000-01, approximately 44,200 students in North Carolina took the SAT. This is up approximately 3 percent from the previous year. Generally, the higher the percentage of students taking the SAT, the lower the score.

North Carolina has the largest gain, 40 points, of any state that tests more than 12 percent of its students for the period of 1991-2001. The nation gained only 21 points during this same time period.

The 28-point gap between North Carolina's total average score and the nation's represents a narrowing of nearly 50 percent since 1990 (53-point gap). North Carolina's 2001 score is one point below the Southeast average.

State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk said that the SAT results provide one measure of student performance. "The SAT is used by many colleges to help them make decisions about how a student may perform. More of our students need to take higher level courses that will better prepare them to be successful on the SAT and in college. Parents and educators need to encourage students to challenge themselves by taking tougher courses. I believe that students will rise to the challenge of higher expectations. That's what we are finding with our state tests."

State Superintendent Mike Ward said that he is pleased to see North Carolina's SAT results continue to improve. "The NAEP results released a few weeks ago showed that North Carolina students are performing better than ever before on national measures. We're glad that the SAT results also are improving. We are still very concerned about the gaps in achievement and have to be diligent in our efforts to close these gaps."

In 2001, the average score of North Carolina's Black students remained the same (835) as in 2000. The average scores of Black students nationally rose one point to 859, leaving a gap of 24 points between North Carolina's Black students and Black students in the nation. North Carolina's score for Black students is 206 points lower than the score of White students in this state (1041), a widening of the gap by six points from the previous year. Nationally, the average score for White students is 1060, 19 points higher than that of White students in North Carolina. Nationally, the Black-White gap increased to 201 points in 2001, up from 198 points in 2000.

North Carolina's Hispanic students scored 975 in 2001, a five-point increase over the previous year, and 59 points higher than Hispanic students nationally. American Indians were the only racial/ethnic group in North Carolina who scored lower in 2001 than in the previous year. Their score of 891 was six points lower than in 2000 and is 69 points lower than that of American Indian students nationally.

The College Board cautions against using the SAT as a gauge of overall state education performance. The College Board states that the SAT scores are useful in making decisions about individual students and their academic preparation for college and that it is "unfair" to use the scores to rank or rate teachers, educational institutions, districts or states. Average scores analyzed for a number of years can reveal trends in the academic preparation of students who take the SAT.

The SAT report presents results for students scheduled to graduate in 2001 and represents students' most recent scores, regardless of when they last took the test. The SAT measures a student's reasoning, verbal and math skills against the skills needed to be successful in freshman level college coursework. The primary use for SAT scores is as a tool for admissions officials at colleges and universities.

The only valid national measure of educational progress among states is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Recently-released NAEP mathematics results for 2000 showed North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders above the national and Southeast averages and among states making the greatest gains.

Many North Carolina students do not take enough rigorous courses to prepare them to do well on the SAT. The College Board, which administers the SAT, cites students taking more rigorous courses early in their academic careers as the best preparation for the SAT.

The College Board reports that students who take higher level courses, more than the minimum required courses and the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test post higher SAT scores than their peers. The College Board reports that the proportion of students taking the test is the most important factor to consider in interpreting SAT scores for a state, school or district. For most schools, annual score changes are not as significant as trends over time.

For additional information, contact your local school system or the Division of Accountability Services' Reporting Section at DPI at 919.807.3769.

For a breakdown of SAT scores by local school systems click here.

To see the full SAT report click here.

The following is a statement from Gov. Mike Easley on today's announcement of North Carolina's improvement on SAT scores.

"North Carolina's students are just beginning to turn the corner. Our investments in education are just starting to pay off. We recently learned that our students are making the greatest gains nationwide in math tests. For the first time, little by little, we are making consistent progress. Now is the time to take bigger and more aggressive steps.

"We cannot let these tough budget times set us back. We cannot be satisfied with mediocrity. Our students deserve more than overcrowded classrooms and overworked, underpaid teachers. It is past time to put in place a progressive budget that charts a long-range course of progress in education.


About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.