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NEWS RELEASES 2002-03 :: AUGUST 27, 2002


"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 Six Points, Moving Above Southeast Average; Nation Stays the Same

North Carolina's average total SAT score moved up six points in 2001-02, moving the state above the Southeast average for the first time. The national average was unchanged in 2002. The results were released today at a news conference in Raleigh.

In North Carolina, the mathematics score increased by six points, to 505, while the verbal score stayed the same at 493, for a total score of 998.

The national mathematics score rose two points to 516 and the verbal score fell two points to 504 for a total of 1020. North Carolina's verbal score is now 11 points away from the nation's verbal score and 11 points away from the nation's math score. At one point (1991), North Carolina's math score was 26 points and verbal score was 21 points away from the national averages.

North Carolina's SAT score of 998 exceeded the Southeast average (995) for the first time. The Southeast score includes scores from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

North Carolina's score went up even as the participation rate of students increased. At 67 percent, North Carolina has the 13th largest (tied with Maryland) SAT participation rate in the nation (46 percent). In 2001-02, approximately 46,180 students in North Carolina took the SAT. This is up nearly 5 percent from the previous year. Generally, among states, the higher the percentage of students taking the SAT, the lower the score.

North Carolina has improved its score each year since 1990, except in 1994 when there was no change. From 1990 to 2002, North Carolina gained more points (50) than any other state with more than 12 percent SAT takers.

State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk said that the SAT is an important indicator to many parents and citizens. "Even though the SAT is used primarily as an indicator of students' performance in college, many citizens pay close attention to these scores. These scores show that the focus in our state is paying off in better performance. We need to convince more students that they need to take tougher courses if they are considering going to college and we'll see even better results."

State Superintendent Mike Ward said that he is particularly pleased to see North Carolina's SAT results move above the Southeast average. "The SAT is one of the national indicators that we track to see how our students are performing. Universities tell us that the students we're sending to them are better prepared for college-level work. That's backed up by these results."

In 2002, the average score of North Carolina's Black students increased four points (839). The average scores of Black students nationally fell two points to 857, leaving a gap of 18 points between North Carolina's Black students and Black students in the nation.

North Carolina's score for Black students (839) is 207 points lower than the score of White students in this state (1046), increasing the gap by one point from the previous year. Nationally, the Black-White gap increased by two points in 2002.

North Carolina's Hispanic students scored 961 in 2002, a 14-point decrease over the previous year. American Indian students in North Carolina improved their score by 23 points to 914. North Carolina Hispanic students score 50 points higher than their counterparts in the nation, while American Indian students in this state are 48 points below the national average for American Indian students. The number of Hispanic and American Indian students taking the SAT in North Carolina is small. In 2002, 799 Hispanic students and 518 American Indian students took the SAT.

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 2002 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 national measure of educational progress that allows for valid comparisons among states is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In 1998, North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders' reading skills surpassed the national and Southeast averages. North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders topped the national and Southeast average scores on NAEP's 2000 Mathematics Assessment. North Carolina's fourth and eighth graders performed consistent with the nation on NAEP's science tests in 2000. The fourth graders average score was the same as the nation's and above the Southeast's. North Carolina eighth graders' score was just below the national average but above the Southeast average. In the first-ever release by NAEP of state-level writing scores, North Carolina's eighth graders' average scale score surpassed the national and Southeast averages on the 1998 National Writing Assessment.

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 (PSAT) 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.

To see the full SAT report click here.

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

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.