WRHS/BCSD SAT Scores– Waiting for Godot?

Many of you, who follow the District, know that I’ve had a long-term interest in the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) test scores in the Blaine County School District.  I’d noticed an anomaly in our average scores a few years ago and have made it a bit of a hobby (along with tracking college admissions) to see how we are doing annually.

Even though we talk a lot about measuring our successes relative to the annual administration of ISAT tests, the reality is that for our college-bound graduates their SAT scores (along with GPA ) are the most important measures of their readiness for university-level work.  Although ACT scores are generally accepted by universities, many of the country’s top-tier institutions prefer to see SAT scores, since their admissions groups believe the SAT to be the best measure of ability and preparedness for a rigorous academic environment.   In particular, students taking both the ACT and SAT will notice that the SAT is heavily-tilted toward “reasoning skills”, “logical analysis” and “interpretational reading tasks”.  Many students consider the questions on the ACT to be more straightforward, whereas often SAT questions can seem vague or ambiguous.  And, of course, the “vocabulary” section of the SAT is famous.  My purpose here is not to debate the two tests’ relative merits.  Rather, I only note that many of the country’s most-selective universities retain a strong preference for the SAT over the ACT and that the tests do vary in their construction.  And, despite the misconception that “you’d only take the SAT if you wanted Harvard, Princeton or Columbia”, over 80% of applicants to fine West Coast schools like USC actually do take the SAT despite the fact that it’s not an absolute requirement.

It’s also been interesting to note that a much larger percentage of our WRHS graduates, when compared to Idaho as a whole, do choose to take the SAT.  This percentage is generally over 50% and even over 60% some years.  By comparison, in 2010 only 5.5% of all Idaho’s graduates took the SAT.  Having a high-preference for the SAT isn’t all that unusual regionally, however, as over 60% of the state of Washington’s graduates took the exam in 2010, as did 56% of California’s grads and over half Oregon’s.  I’d infer from this that our graduates, then, generally have a higher-than-state-norm aspirations for out-of-state colleges on the coasts, where the SAT is more recognized and has a higher preference.

Well, with that in mind, how do we do on the SAT here at WRHS?  Pictures speak volumes, so here is the picture:

Wood River High Critical Reading Scores 2007-2010

SAT Critical Reading Scores, WRHS vs Select Idaho High Schools

Whether true or not, Boise High School (BHS) has traditionally been thought by many to have the best college-prep public high school program in the state. In recent years Timberline High School (another part of Boise Independent School District) has posted some impressive scores, as well.  In this graphic, Boise High School is broken out from the composite of ALL Boise District High Schools, for comparison purposes.  As you can see, both BHS singly and Boise District as a whole entity score significantly above the state averages.  It should also be noted that, like WRHS, BHS has a much higher-than-Idaho-average percentage of its graduates selecting the SAT.  BHS does offer an extensive range of AP classes, foreign language instruction, deep science programs and generally a strong tradition of academic rigor.  Their AP and SAT performance is undoubtedly a strong factor in their perennial ranking in the Top 500 nationally, as presented by US News and World Report’s annual ratings of the country’s best high schools.

Unsurprisingly, given the SAT performance, Wood River High School is generally unranked, despite have an operating budget several times the size of Boise District’s, as measured by expenditure per enrolled pupil. More on this aberration later.

Many people may not recognize Coeur d’Alene Academy (Cd’A), especially as the school was only founded in 1999.  Cd’A Academy functions as a charter school, as part of the Coeur d’Alene School District, and they operate an International Baccalaureate academic program.  Their results, year in and year out, are exemplary.  In recognition of this, US News and World Report has seen the school quickly rise to the top tier of the national rankings;  they were rated at #115 nationally in the most recent surveys.  Most amazing of all, since Cd’A operates as a charter school, under state law there can be no admissions requirement (they draw an annual lottery from the community) and they do all this on only slightly more than $7000 per student per year– basically all the charter law allocates them.  In a time of diminished national competitiveness and lackluster test results in many schools, Cd’A is a real tribute to what can be accomplished with an experienced staff, committed parents and a great curriculum.  They should be a source of pride for the whole state– elevating all students and expanding their choices upon graduation.  Cd’A graduates annually surpass WRHS’ SAT Critical Reading scores by differences approaching 100 points, or larger than an ENTIRE statistical standard deviation for WRHS.  More on the statistical implications of this in future posts.

This seemed like a good time to post the history of SAT test results, as we (like the two gentlemen loitering under the tree for Godot) are anxiously awaiting the release of the first statewide, 100%-participation, SAT test results.  Many locally have described BCSD as “the best school district in the state of Idaho”, so we do look forward to the SAT testing results to confirm (or refute) this standing.  For the first time, we’ll be able to compare our academic achievement with the rest of the state and, because the test is nationally indexed, with schools across the country.  Are we really the best district in the state?  We’ll soon know.

Additionally, since the full SAT reports contain a lot of information about ‘score distributions’ and ‘demographic make-up’, the upcoming reports should shed light on how we serve our various communities of learners.  Past-year report statistics have been quite illuminating, particularly since WRHS mean scores (what we generally think of as the “average” scores, for those who aren’t completely comfortable with the statistics)  traditionally lag schools like BHS and Cd’A by considerable margins.  The question of why we lag those schools’ means, and in fact why we lag even the state averages so consistently, opens up a whole new set of riddles and implications.  Alas, delving into those mysteries will have to wait until the next post.

Until then, we’ll patiently await our version of Godot, the statewide SAT results.  See you back here then.



Filed under Education, News

4 responses to “WRHS/BCSD SAT Scores– Waiting for Godot?

  1. Interested Parent

    This is an excellent, informative article. Thanks for posting! Look forward to seeing our SAT results– and reading more like this.

  2. 4studentrights

    I suggest that you run in the next school board election. Several parents at the high school have brought up these SAT stats at meetings (including the school board) recently, and even over the last five-ten years, but who’s counting?
    A correction: We are really the best district in the galaxy.
    You are also an excellent writer. Did you go to school here?

  3. Mom4edu

    Is anyone still on this website? Where are recent results? I am hoping for the breakthrough when the Dual Immersion students get to be seniors. Are you there yet? Would give it two years of graduates and check the SAT scores.

    • Hi Mom4edu,

      The first year’s results of the Statewide SAT Test Day did come out last fall. The state education published the complete College Board report, bless them, and it contained all the test scores– for every district in the state. As expected, the Blaine County results were so-so, basically lower-to-middle of the pack across the three sections of the SAT. This was pretty predictable, given the prior years’ results where the BCSD averages were below the ENTIRE state of Washington– even though a higher percentage of kids in the state of Washington took the test than did in BCSD. Our SAT scores are just anemic– not the worst, but not even average.

      Dual Immersion “may” help. I hope so, but I’m not convinced, given the the national results from DI are so mixed. We’ll know more in a few months when this year’s results come out and we see the impact of the first “complete DI class” matriculation.

      Structurally, there are several things that are encoded in BCSD’s operations that inhibit efforts to raise SAT scores. That’s been explained at length to Dr. Barber and Dr. Blackmon, but until the Board of Trustees starts to take the results seriously it’s unlikely that we’ll see much improvement. The ironic thing is that, for a $75 Million District, the things that would fix our achievement deficit really aren’t all that expensive. For 10% of what they carryover every year in excess tax collections BCSD could be the Top District in the state. It’s unclear whether that potential greatness can be unleashed under this leadership team.

      Check back here when this year’s SAT results come out and we can analyze. Until then we are just hoping that the Board does the right thing this week and skips the “automatic contract extension” for Dr. Blackmon and Dr. Barber until the lawsuit distractions and test scores and other performance issues are resolved.

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