State's math SAT scores drop to a 12-year low

The Associated Press /

PORTLAND — Public school students in Oregon have turned in the worst performance on the SAT’s math section of any class in the past 12 years, suggesting to some that students are getting decent grades in geometry and their first year of algebra but not mastering the material.

Test results released Wednesday show the average math score of 517, a four-point drop from the previous year and a 12-point plunge from a peak score of 529 for the class of 2006.

More than 15,700 public school students in Oregon’s class of 2013 took the SAT, representing 45 percent of graduates, down a hair from the 46 percent tested in the class of 2012, The Oregonian reported. An additional 2,000 Oregon students from private schools took the college-entrance exam.

In writing, the average Oregon score was flat, while the average reading score dropped 2 points, to its 2011 level.

Oregon’s math results still beat the national average, noted Crystal Greene, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education.

Oregon’s public school average remains far above the national public school average, which fell to 503 this year. But the average is only narrowly above the national average for all SAT-takers, 514.

Brian Bills, an SAT coach in Lake Oswego, said he has found that students at many Oregon high schools get good grades in every math class and study calculus but don’t do super-well on the SAT math section on the first try.

Giving points for completing homework or extra work, and putting an emphasis on simply repeating a math algorithm without understanding it can leave students with high grades but poor readiness, Bills said.

Among Oregon SAT-takers, 55 percent reported an A grade-point average, and 38 percent reported a B average. Yet many scored poorly on the SAT.

“If the goal is ‘how do I get the good grade?’ as opposed to ‘how do I walk out understanding everything that I have to know?’ that’s a problem,” Bills said.

One educator pointed to a new grading system the state is requiring this year that will separately evaluate behavior such as class participation, completing homework and turning things in on time — if those are evaluated at all.

Grading students solely on math proficiency helps to fill gaps in a student’s knowledge, said Forest Grove Chief Academic Officer John O’Neill.

“We were dismayed at the number of our graduates with very high grade averages who got low SAT scores and were put in remedial math” in college, he said. “So we really upped the rigor.”