Average 1991 Scholastic Aptitude Test scores in both math and verbal skills improved over last year for most Orange County seniors--at a time when national scores have dropped to record lows, according to figures released Tuesday by local school districts.
Average scores in verbal skills increased in seven of 14 districts for which figures were available Tuesday. All but three districts--Anaheim Union High School District, Garden Grove Unified and Santa Ana Unified--scored higher than the national average for that portion of the SAT test, which is one of the key factors colleges use to determine admissions.
Math scores were up over last year in eight of the 14 unified and union high school districts reporting Tuesday, and 12 of those districts posted average scores above 500 out of a possible 800. All but one school district--Santa Ana Unified--scored above the national average in math.
Even in Santa Ana Unified, which fell below the national average in both categories for a third consecutive year, seniors of the Class of 1991 posted 10-point gains in verbal skills over the Class of 1990, and scored three points higher in mathematics than their counterparts last year.
"We're very proud of our students and we think we are making fantastic progress," said Vergil Hettick, director of research and evaluation for Santa Ana Unified, which is the county's largest district with more than 44,000 students, and has one of the heaviest minority enrollments. "We're moving on two fronts: We're helping kids think better . . . and we are getting more and more students interested in going to college."
Hettick said the increased scores also come at a time when more and more Santa Ana students are taking the SAT, something that tends to decrease the average scores for school districts. "We now have 40% of our students taking the SAT. When I came here it was in the area of 10% to 12%, and that was six years ago," he said.
As in Santa Ana Unified, both Garden Grove and Anaheim Union High School District have been grappling with an increased number of students for whom English is not their first language. Educators in both districts note that non-native English speakers generally don't perform as well on the SAT. And like Santa Ana Unified, both the Anaheim and Garden Grove districts are seeing even greater numbers of students taking the SAT, including those students who are limited in English.
"We do not limit who takes the SAT, unlike some districts," said Supt. Cynthia F. Grennan of Anaheim Union. "We encourage setting high expectations for these children. And you can see in our math scores (502 in 1991 compared to a national average of 474), we hold our own pretty well."
And while Anaheim may have fallen below the national average in verbal skills for the third year in a row, Grennan noted that the average SAT composite score for her district is 901 compared with a national average of 896. A perfect score for the SAT is 1,600.
Grennan and other educators caution against reading too much into SAT scores, which are devised to be an indicator of a student's aptitude for college. Factors such as other standardized testing and the percentage of students entering college are other indicators of a district's educational quality.
"You need to examine the total educational program," Grennan said. "For example, we do very well in advanced placement (college-level classes taken for college credit in high school). Approximately 64% of our 700 students received a score . . . that granted them college credit."
Of those schools reporting, the county's highest mean SAT score in verbal skills was posted by Laguna Beach Unified at 459, up 13 points from 1990's SAT. Irvine Unified was a close second at 458, up seven points from 1990. Irvine Unified seniors had the highest average math score at 552, up nine points from 1990.
Tied for second place in average math scores with 529 were Huntington Beach Union High School District and Newport-Mesa Unified. But while that was a gain of one point for the Huntington Beach district over last year, it was a decline of five points for Newport Mesa. Los Alamitos Unified came in third in average math scores with 527, down five points from 1990.
Placentia Unified posted the largest single increase in either category, gaining 21 points in math over 1990 SAT scores. Some educators say a change of even a point or two in SAT scores is significant, absent changes in other factors. But others say these scores can only be viewed for trends over several years.
"We're obviously not real happy, but we're not going to panic because (SAT scores) went down one year," said Dale Woolley, Newport-Mesa Unified's head of student support and research services.
Times researcher Janice Jones contributed to this article.
O.C. Scholastic Aptitude Test Scores
1991 1990 1989 District Verbal Math Verbal Math Verbal Math Anaheim Union High School 399 502 408 511 408 504 Brea-Olinda Unified 438 516 447 524 454 539 Capistrano Unified 449 510 456 504 446 492 Fullerton Joint Union H.S. 429 511 429 504 385 456 Garden Grove Unified 388 493 384 491 395 498 Huntington Beach Union H.S. 441 529 439 528 438 521 Irvine Unified 458 552 451 543 457 536 Laguna Beach Unified 459 501 446 489 459 500 Los Alamitos Unified 449 519 456 525 445 517 Newport-Mesa Unified 446 529 457 534 453 535 Orange Unified NA NA 429 507 424 502 Placentia Unified 441 524 438 503 432 504 Saddleback Valley Unified 446 510 444 512 451 514 Santa Ana Unified 358 452 348 449 355 445 Tustin Unified 434 521 441 530 445 526
\o7 Source: Orange County high school districts\f7
National and State SAT Scores
1991 1990 1989 District Verbal Math Verbal Math Verbal Math National average 422 474 424 476 427 476 California average 415 482 419 484 422 484
\o7 Source: Educational Testing Services