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NEWS RELEASES 2004-05 :: AUGUST 31, 2004


"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 non-school 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's 2004 average total SAT score increased by five points, and the state's growth continued to outpace national growth on this measure, according to results released today by The College Board. North Carolina posted the highest 10-year gain on the SAT of any of the SAT states. There are 23 SAT states - states that have 50 percent or more of their students taking the college admissions test.

The results were released today by Gov. Mike Easley and State Superintendent Mike Ward at a news conference held at Enloe High School, Wake County Schools. The SAT is one of the major college entrance requirements for high school students, and is the entrance exam most often taken in North Carolina.

North Carolina's score increases in 2004 were largely the result of gains by Black and Hispanic students.

This year, North Carolina's mathematics score increased by one point to 507. The verbal score increased by four points to 499. The total average score for North Carolina is 1,006.

The national mathematics score dropped a point from 2003 and is at 518 for 2004. The national average verbal score is 508, one point higher than in 2003. The total national score is 1,026.

North Carolina's average total SAT score exceeds the Southeast score of 1,001, which increased by two points in 2004. The Southeast score includes scores from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. North Carolina students closed the gap between the state and nation, bringing it to 20 points, the smallest gap ever. In 1972, North Carolina students trailed the nation by 83 points.

North Carolina's score continued to improve in 2004 even as the number of test takers increased by 2.4 percent from the previous year. With 70 percent of high school seniors taking the SAT, North Carolina has the 13th largest SAT participation rate in the nation. In 2003-04, 50,042 students in North Carolina took the SAT compared with 1,419,007 nationally. Usually, students take the SAT during their junior and senior years of high school. Generally, among states, the higher the percentage of students taking the SAT, the lower the score.

North Carolina is a national leader in SAT score gains, having improved its score each year since 1990, except in 1994 when there was no change. North Carolina has improved its score by 42 points over the past 10 years and by 20 points in the past five years.

Along with the SAT scores, the College Board also released results of its Advanced Placement (AP) examinations. North Carolina posted a 9 percent increase in the number of students taking these rigorous exams and an 8.3 percent increase in the number of 3, 4 or 5 level scores. Advanced Placement courses are college-level courses offered in high school. Students who take the AP Exams and earn a score of 3 or above on the exams' 5-level scoring system can qualify for college credit at participating colleges and universities.

A total of 33,900 North Carolina students took 61,526 AP exams in 2004. The number of scores that were 3 or better was 34,978.

State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said that he was encouraged that more students were taking these rigorous courses. "Taking AP courses benefits students in many ways. In addition to the potential for earning college credit, students are building a stronger foundation for college success and are boosting their opportunities for learning. It is especially encouraging that participation rates improved the most among racial minorities."

State Superintendent Mike Ward said that "while the SAT was never designed to offer state-to-state comparisons, the trend over time shows that North Carolina is making substantial and sustained improvements compared to the rest of the nation. The participation rate, along with the increases in scores and the positive indicators from the AP program, show that students and their families are setting their sights on higher education. That is good news for our state and for our students and their communities."

More than one-third of North Carolina students who took the SAT in 2004 have parents who did not graduate from college. In addition, nearly half - 46 percent - reported annual family income of less than $50,000.

In 2004, the average total SAT score of North Carolina's Black students was 847, 200 points lower than the average score of White students but eight points higher than in 2003. Their performance decreased the Black-White SAT achievement gap by 11 points in 2004.

North Carolina's Hispanic students scored 964 in 2004, up from 961 in 2003. American Indian students scored 916, a drop of seven points from last year. The state's Asian students scored 1,047, a five-point drop from 2003.

White students made up 57.9 percent of SAT test takers, while Black students comprised 19.2 percent of all test takers. The other racial designations made up much smaller percentages of the overall group of students taking the SAT.

For the complete SAT report, please click here.

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 provides results for students scheduled to graduate in 2004 and represents students' most recent scores, regardless of when they last took the SAT. The SAT measures a student's reasoning, verbal and mathematics 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 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, please contact your local school system or the Division of Accountability Services' Reporting, N.C. Department of Public Instruction, 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.