News: CJ Exclusives

N.C. students scoring higher on AP exams, revised SAT tests

Scores are improving, but not all students take standardized tests, making results among states hard to compare

The results are in. More North Carolina students are taking and passing college level advanced placement courses, and students are scoring higher than the national average on the revised SAT exam. But ACT scores are lagging.

College Board, which administers the AP and SAT exams, has disclosed data showing improvements for students in North Carolina. The number of students taking at least one AP exam during the 2016-17 school year increased 6 percent from the previous school year. The national average increased by 5.2 percent.

Of the 74,041 public school students taking a total of 138,282 AP exams, 71,337 received a 3 or higher score on an AP exam. Tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with a 3 or higher translating to college credit, depending on the university.

“It is encouraging to see more students taking advantage of ways to get college-level credit that can save them and their families money on higher-education costs,” state schools Superintendent Mark Johnson said in a prepared statement. “Earning college credit while still in high school is one example of the multiple pathways to success that our public schools provide to students.”

N.C. public school graduates also are performing better on the revised SAT college admission exam, scoring higher than the national average. While the national combined average score for the class of 2017 is 1,044 out of a max score of 1,600, the North Carolina combined average score is 1,074. Because the revised test was administered in March 2016, the results for the class of 2017 can’t be compared to SAT test scores from previous years.

Fewer students — 49 percent — are taking the SAT in North Carolina. The demographic breakdown of students taking the SAT shows more white students and more female students are taking the exam, compared to other subgroups.

Lindalyn Kakadelis, a senior consultant with N.C. Education strategies, says the SAT results for North Carolina don’t necessarily represent the state demographic.

“It’s good news that we are higher than the national average, but I don’t think we can celebrate the percent of the subgroups that are taking the exam,” Kakadelis said. “The subgroup participation rate does not reflect the population subgroups that are actually attending schools.”

ACTs are a greater concern than the SAT, Kakadelis said, because the tests are mandatory for 11th-graders and better represent the demographic makeup of the state’s public schools.

Only 58.8 percent of participating 11th-graders in the 2016-17 school year met the UNC System’s minimum admission requirement of 17. Fewer than half of 11th-graders met the English benchmark, and 31.8 percent met the benchmark for reading. For math, 28.5 percent met the benchmark; 21.9 percent met the science benchmark.

“It is a much bigger concern when you compare the states that have 100 percent of their students taking the test,” Kakadelis said. “When you compare North Carolina with those states, we are not doing as well as I think we should.”

To improve student performance, Kakadelis suggests focusing on chronic absenteeism for students and teachers. A recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute shows chronic teacher absenteeism much higher at traditional public schools than at charter schools.

“That needs a serious look,” Kakadelis said. “If teachers are not in classes and students aren’t in classes, then learning doesn’t take place. That’s about as basic as it gets. If you don’t show up you can’t learn, and if you don’t show up you can’t teach.”

Kakadelis suggests taking a look at hiring practices in traditional public schools. Student performance is tied to quality teachers, she said.

“I personally think that we need to give much more flexibility to our [local school boards], just as we have given flexibility to our charter schools in hiring people they think are best in the classroom, regardless [of whether] they have jumped through all the hoops of certification,” Kakadelis said. “I think we sometimes tie our hands of our superintendents and our principals in hiring the best teacher for the classroom.”