Saturday, February 24, 2024

Why are standardized test results broken down by race? Here’s how Virginia uses that info to inform change

(WYDaily/Courtesy of Flickr)
(WYDaily/Courtesy of Flickr)

It’s that time of the year again: Test scores for the Scholastic Aptitude Test — commonly known as the SAT — have been released.

In Virginia, test scores show students improved their scores by three points over their 2018 counterparts. Further, this year’s crop of SAT-takers also outscored their nationwide peers, the Virginia Department of Education announced in a news release.

Of those Virginian students, data shows Asian students, on average, met “readiness” standards more often than their peers of other races.

So, why are the test scores broken down by race, and how does it shape policy and instruction in the classroom?

Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said the way student SAT scores are broken down into data sets is pre-prescribed by the College Board. Similarly, federal regulations decide how state-level test scores — such as Standards of Learning — or SOL tests — are broken down demographically.

Breaking down student demographics — whether it be by race, economic status or disability — helps Virginia policymakers and school divisions evaluate where the discrepancies are; and come up with a plan for how to fix them.

“If you don’t look at the data, don’t report the data, then you don’t have a lot of awareness of these gaps in performance,” Pyle said. “Without this awareness, without the actionable information, you don’t really have the basis to move forward in terms of addressing the problem.”

The Department of Education also tracks demographics information by school division for SOL scores, which are state-level tests. Those reporting standards are federally-regulated.

Having a plethora of data available allows divisions to cross-compare various categories, such as race and economic disadvantage, or disability and gender.

“All of those are required reporting categories,” Pyle said, adding that having those categories help schools identify where they need to improve.

One of the state of Virginia’s solutions changes the way schools are accredited — 2018 was the first year the state used the new accreditation system.

Under the new system, schools gain accreditation based on a deeper dive into their SOL test scores, instead of using the general overview of the scores. Schools with scores showing achievement gaps between different student groups, chronic absenteeism, dropout rates and more.

“We want all students to achieve at a high level and to enjoy success,” Pyle said. “If all students aren’t enjoying the success we would have them experience, then to know about that, we’d have to look at data.”

Schools are also responsible for looking at their test score data and formulating instructional or staffing changes to raise those scores.

Pyle said it’s important to consider that not all high schoolers in Virginia are required to take the SAT, meaning comparing scores with other states that have different requirements may not be a valid comparison.

Only about 60 to 65 percent of Virginian students eligible to take the test actually do so, he said.

The SAT is not a state test, but rather a national College Board “assessment product,” Pyle said.

As far as the latest test results for the SAT released recently, here’s the rundown, including local figures:

  • 2019 Virginia average SAT score: 1113 
  • 2018 Virginia average SAT score: 1110
  • 2019 national average SAT score: 1039
  • 2019 Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools SAT score: 1135
  • 2019 York County School Division SAT score: 1131

Asian students in Virginia had the best mean scores on the SAT in the state, mirroring a national trend, according to Virginia Department of Education data in a news release.

Asian students in Virginia had the best mean scores on the SAT in Virginia, mirroring a national trend (WYDaily/Courtesy of VDOE)
Asian students in Virginia had the best mean scores on the SAT in Virginia, mirroring a national trend (WYDaily/Courtesy of VDOE)

When a WYDaily reporter asked Pyle whether there’s a science employed by the state to help understand how race and standardized test scores relate, Pyle said he would answer questions related to the news release sent by the Department of Education about the SAT scores.

He did, however, add information about the department’s philosophy.

“We believe that all children can perform at a high level … and that all children can have an experience in the public schools of the commonwealth and emerge from that experience prepared for success, regardless of whether they plan to go to a two- or four-year college, into the military, or some other post-secondary training,” Pyle said.

Clarification: The original version of this story included two SAT score numbers for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and York County School Division that were based on 11th grade mean SAT scores. The story has been updated to include the divisions’ overall mean scores for 11th-graders and other students who also took the test in 2019.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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