Elm City improves on SATs

At a time when the SAT is making high school students anxious nationwide, last year’s results are giving New Haven public school officials cause for celebration.

SAT scores for New Haven public school students increased four points for the 2007 school year, even as average scores declined for Connecticut and the country as a whole. The average score for the math and verbal portions of the exam is now 828 points on a 1600-point scale.

The scores remain significantly below the state average for Connecticut, however. The average math score in Connecticut is 512, and the average verbal score is 510.

New Haven’s gains were not consistent district-wide, as significant gains at Hillhouse High School and Hyde Leadership Academy balanced out losses at High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross.

This year’s data continues a five-year trend of increasing SAT scores, broken only by dips in verbal/reading scores during the 2006 school year. Average math scores rose three points from last year to 410, and the city’s average score on the verbal section ticked one point up from 2006 to 418.

New Haven scored an average of 421 on the two-year-old writing section of the new SAT, an increase of three points from last year. The three-point gain there brings New Haven’s average score on the new 2400-point scale to 1249, compared to a national average of 1511.

“We were really pleased because both our CAPT [Connecticut Academic Performance Test] and SAT scores [increased] at a time when the state average was declining,” said Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, spokeswoman for New Haven Public Schools.

Sullivan-DeCarlo also noted the significance of New Haven’s scores rising against what she called “deflationary pressure” due to the increased number of students taking the test. The percentage of eligible Elm City students taking the test rose from 73.5 percent in 2006 to 74 percent in 2007, she said, and the new test-takers might have been expected to score at the lower end of the scale.

But Marc Porter McGee, Research Director for the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, said the district’s gains, while laudable, need to be viewed within the context of the nearly 200-point difference between New Haven and statewide average scores on the 1600 scale.

“If the goal is to close the gap, those improvements need to accelerate,” McGee said. “Over the past two years, the average combined [math and verbal] score is up three points.”

Moving at the current rate of increase, it would take New Haven public schools 129 years to reach parity with average SAT scores statewide. McGee said he thinks accelerating that rate of increase is possible, but will require concerted effort on the part of faculty and staff.

Dr. Lonnie Garris, principal at Hillhouse High School, credits math and English teachers for Hillhouse’s one-year gain of 12 points on the verbal section of the SAT and 23 points on math.

“Part of this increase has to do with the great work that’s being done in my English department with vocabulary and analogies, and the great work that’s being done in the mathematics department,” he said.

Hillhouse has also made an effort to offer its students outside help for standardized tests like the SAT and the CAPT. Garris said his school sees a high turnout for an optional SAT tutoring program offered to students on Saturdays.

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