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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

SAT Scores Again Top State, Nation

Education: County schools' average is higher than counterparts for sixth year in a row on test used to judge readiness for college.

August 30, 2000|TRACY WILSON and ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For the sixth consecutive year, Ventura County high school students outperformed their peers across the state and the nation on a test that assesses readiness for college, according to numbers released Tuesday by the county superintendent of schools office.

Students here scored an average of 527 on the verbal portion of the SAT, 30 points higher than the state and 22 points higher than counterparts nationally in the 1999-2000 school year.

Average math scores of 544 were 26 points higher than the state and 30 higher than the nation.

The county numbers reflect a 10-point gain in verbal and 12-point gain in math over a five-year period.

Ventura County's overall average score last year was 1,071, out of a highest possible score of 1,600.

Colleges across the nation rely heavily on SAT scores when deciding whom to admit. Competition for coveted spots at choice universities often comes down to whom has the higher SAT scores.

"College-bound kids are getting an excellent education," said Ventura County Supt. of Schools Chuck Weis. "As they apply for the most prestigious schools, these scores will help quite a bit."

The top scoring schools last year were Oak Park, with a combined math and verbal score of 1,143; Westlake, with 1,135, and Camarillo, which scored 1,124.

Educators said the results are a good indicator of the quality of a school's instructional program for college-bound students, as well as of its students' ability to perform on standardized tests.

School officials said more students are realizing that colleges and universities are requiring competitive SAT scores, so they are enrolling in more honors classes and SAT preparation courses.

Weis said he was impressed by the students' performance, but cautioned that there is still room for improvement. Although the math scores improved by five points countywide last year, the average verbal score was the same as the previous year.

As expected, students in more affluent areas with parents who have advanced education performed better on the test than those in poorer communities or who speak little English.

Ventura County's Latino, black and Asian students outperformed other minorities around the state and nation last year. But they still lagged behind white students here and elsewhere. Weis said study programs aimed at black and Latino students in lower-income communities may have helped, and he added that such efforts are continuing.

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Contrasts also continue when comparing achievement by gender.

Though girls' scores have improved significantly in the last five years, boys outperformed girls on the 2000 exam by 37 points in math and 2 points in verbal.

The gender gap frustrated educators, who didn't see the same differences on the Stanford 9 exam, the statewide achievement test taken by all students, not only those considering college.

Weis said many districts have taken steps to close this gap and said that effort may be contributing to the higher SAT scores for girls overall. They include gender-specific classes, teacher training and a greater diversity of educators at all grade levels.

In addition, the county's high schools are making an effort to get more students to take the SAT. Last year, 2,743 students took the exam, 16 more than in the 1998-99 school year. But that still represents less than a third of the graduating class.

Weis' office released countywide scores, and district officials released individual schools' numbers.

In the Conejo Valley, last year's scores are slightly lower than the previous year's at Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park high schools, but rose at Westlake High, where students got an average of 551 in verbal and 584 in math.

"We continue to be happy with the progress we are making," said Conejo Valley Unified Supt. Jerry Gross.

At Thousand Oaks High School, Principal Jo-Ann Yoos said the averages of 543 in verbal and 559 in math are consistent for a high school that typically sends 40% of its students to four-year universities and another 30% to community colleges.

"They are hard-charging," Yoos said of her students. "We have kids that are academically competitive across the United States at you-name-it universities--Harvard, Stanford."

Across the county in Fillmore, students scored 457 on math and 459 on verbal last year. Overall test scores were 50 points higher than the previous year, but still below the county and state averages.

"We are where we are," said Assistant Supt. Jane Kampbell. "And we are going to be better next year. We want to do everything we can to help our kids get into college."

In Santa Paula, students' scores were 12 points lower than the previous year and below county and state averages. Students scored 455 on verbal and 456 on math.

Santa Paula High School Principal Tony Gaitan said the district plans to design a program this year to improve the scores. "I'm not sure what happened last year," he said. "We're not happy about that."

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