An SAT score isn’t the full story of a student’s potential | Commentary
By Diane Kornegay
Nov 08, 2019 | 12:32 PM
Recent headlines have reignited the ongoing debate about the role of standardized testing in college admissions. While tests like the SAT and ACT are designed to measure the skills and knowledge linked to success in college, these same tests also pose a particular concern for students and parents.
Many colleges and universities use SAT scores as a major factor when determining which students will be admitted. That’s partly why Lake County Schools agreed several years ago to make the test available free of charge to all high school juniors through the College Board’s Florida Partnership for Minority and Underrepresented Student Achievement.
In addition to the free SAT offering for all students, the partnership has provided all students access to college readiness resources, not just the high-achievers or those whose parents could pay for them.
The SAT is considered by many to be a significant measure of academic achievement and potential. So it was no surprise to us when scores were released a few weeks ago, that some were eager to compare Florida’s performance in general, and Lake’s in particular, with others around the country.
One such comparison showed the national average combined score of 2019 graduates at 1059, according to results released in late September. Florida’s score was 999, and Lake’s was 956.
This is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
Lake is an “open-access” district, meaning we administer the SAT to all students, regardless of academic achievement. One would not expect our average score to be on par with those of districts where, primarily, the college-bound students are tested.
In fact, if you look at total average scores from October, focusing only on students who sat for the that month’s test on Saturday — which is the day when mostly paying students take the test — Lake County’s score was 1061.
To further illustrate the impact open access has on total average scores, look back at 2015 when we had open access at only one school. We tested 1,284 students and saw a combined reading/math score of 944. The next year, in 2016, we expanded open access and tested 2,598 students. Our combined score dropped to 863.
Since that time, we have exposed more students to college-ready resources and seen the numbers climb. In 2019, we tested 2,991 students and our combined reading/math score jumped to 956. That’s 93 points higher than when we started open access for all! We are pleased to offer a free SAT to all students and still show an upward trajectory. We expect this trend to continue.
One way to keep improving scores is through the PSAT, which our students take as early as the eighth grade. We use the PSAT scores to identify those students with college potential, direct them toward a more rigorous class schedule and, ultimately, improve their SAT scores.
We work with other students who may be more interested in going straight into a career than to college, to ensure they are job-ready when they graduate. Our goal is to ensure all students are prepared for college and career when they leave our schools.
We are balancing our work on SAT improvement with the knowledge that a single test is not the sole determinant for college success. It is one of many factors that determine college readiness, and while we recognize its importance, we don’t want to overstate it.
To say, as one recently published commentary did, that only 17 out of every 100 Lake test-takers would be successful in their first year of college based solely on SAT scores, is exactly the kind of overstatement that should be avoided.
Even colleges and universities are saying yes, the SAT is a big deal, but not as big as some are making it out to be. The Washington Post reported last month that a record number of colleges are dropping the SAT/ACT admissions requirement amid a growing disenchantment with standardized tests.
“Research has consistently shown that ACT and SAT scores are strongly linked to family income, mother’s education level and race,” the article states. “The College Board and ACT Inc., which owns the ACT, say their tests are predictive of college success, but there is also research showing otherwise.”
For that reason, we focus just as strongly on students’ classroom achievements, community service, participation in clubs and organizations, and industry certifications as we prepare students for college and career.
We want to develop well-rounded students with a love of learning and a strong desire to contribute to their families and their community. That says a whole lot more about a student than any test score ever could.
Diane Kornegay is superintendent of Lake County Schools.