MCPS SAT scores soar, but race gap still apparent
By: Patrick Hoover and Cassandra Perkins
Montgomery County Public Schools students are taking the SAT in greater numbers and with greater success, recent results show. Roughly 70 percent of MCPS students took the SAT this year, over 20 percent higher than Maryland’s average, and nearly double the percentage of the national average. The class of 2010’s average score, 1653, showed a 38-point increase from 2009’s average. More impressive, however, are the more than 50 percent of students in the 2010 class that scored higher than 1650, widely considered a target for college preparedness, and well above the national average of 1509.
All students, including special education students and ESOL students, have seen a rise in SAT scores from 2006. Special education students saw a 20 point increase from 2009. Of the 34.2 percent of special education students who took the SAT in 2010, 36 percent of them scored a 1500 or above and 21.2 percent scored 1650 or above.
Nevertheless, there still remains a wide gap between students of different races as measured by the SAT. More than four out of five Asian American and Caucasian students in the class of 2010 took the SAT, compared with about two thirds of African American students and less than one half of Hispanic students. The discrepancy in scores between Asian and Caucasian students, and Black and Hispanic students is also considerable, with Asian and Caucasian scores averaging 1758.5 and Black and Hispanic scores averaging 1428.5.
The cultural and socioeconomic bias within the SAT clearly favors the wealthier white students of Montgomery County, while under-privileged and many minority students often get the short-end of the stick. Privileged students have the opportunity to purchase private tutors, prep courses, practice workbooks, SAT flashcards and SAT online tutorials. Some prep courses cost over $1,800. Not excluding the high cost of SAT registration — a whopping $47.00 before late fees — which in itself is a significant burden to the many less advantaged students in today’s harsh economy. The SAT cost alone is unfortunately more than enough to exclude a significant number of MCPS students.
Amid such constraints, SAT performance relies heavily on the economic standing of the student’s family, leaving a disproportionate number of Hispanic, Black and other minority students of working families at a serious disadvantage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 10 percent of Hispanics and 9.1 percent of African Americans fall below the poverty level in Montgomery County compared to 3.5 percent of Caucasians — a telling statistic to those who advocate the death of minority set asides, affirmative action and other efforts designed to balance the playing field.
While the option of a fee-waiver is available for some students whose families fall below a certain income level, a large group of students in the sub-middle class do not qualify for the waiver, but cannot afford the cost nonetheless. Thus, in order to narrow the racial achievement gap and raise the number of test-takers overall, fee-waivers need to become more accessible.
Although private institutions continue to offer their services in preparation for the SAT, various schools offer a free SAT prep class that students can take during their regular school day. However, the level of test preparedness is rather low for these school classes, giving students only one or two opportunities to take a full-length practice test throughout the course of an entire semester. In comparison, private prep-courses offer full-length tests in simulated testing conditions once a week. Strengthening these courses would likely shorten the achievement gap overall, and allow students of all economic standings to feel more confident about taking the test. As long as students of all backgrounds are compared in the same academic profile by colleges and universities, these courses need to be more highly publicized to parents as well as students, and need to be strengthened in terms of curriculum, teaching and overall adequacy.
Cassandra Perkins is a senior at Walter Johnson High School and an intern at HooverLaw, LLC.