When Katie Ames took the SAT as a high school student in Washington state, it didn’t seem like the college admissions test was a big deal.
“I didn’t think there was any other implication other than I had to take it,” Ames said.
A decade later, she knows better. In her first year as the counselor for the Kootenai Joint School District in Harrison, Ames met with the dozen or so juniors at the high school, encouraging them to take the exam seriously.
“This test is going to follow you through your adult life,” Ames said. “You’re going to be able to apply it to scholarships, be able to use it on college applications … It’s not just something you have to do to graduate.”
As a state, Idaho has prioritized student achievement on the SAT, an exam that can gauge how ready students are for college or careers. The state invests $1 million each year for students to take the exam for free.
But, new data shows that scores have slid backward for the second year in a row, even as the state approaches a deadline to increase the number of students who succeed on the exam.
This year, Idaho high school juniors scored an average of 976 out of 1600 points on the exam. That’s worse than last year, and more than 20 points behind the 2017 average.
Kootenai Junior/Senior high school bucked that trend.
The small school’s junior class scored an average of 1082 points on the exam, beating last year’s average by about 150 points and also outpacing the school’s scores from 2017.
“They were thrilled,” Ames said. “We’ve got some really high drive here, especially in this group of students. They’re really excited about going to college.”
Search the graphic below to see how individual high schools trend on the SAT.
(Note: A handful of schools are excluded from this list for lack of data. If a school has very few kids who participated in the exam the State Department of Education keeps the scores confidential to protect individual student information.)
Taking the SAT (or an alternative college placement exam called the ACT) is a graduation requirement for Idaho students.
The tests are commonly required for college applications and also have built in “college- and career-readiness” benchmarks to help measure how prepared students are for higher education. That’s an important measure in the context of Idaho’s goal of having 60 percent of adults complete some form of higher ed.
This year, test results showed that only 31 percent of Idaho’s juniors met both college- and career-readiness benchmarks measured by the SAT. The benchmarks indicate whether a student is at least 75 percent likely to score a “C” or better in a college-level class.
In mathematics, only 33 percent of Idaho juniors met the math benchmark (same as in 2018).
Fifty-six percent of juniors met the reading and writing benchmark, a drop from last year.
Both state and local agencies say they plan to investigate the trend of declining SAT scores to better understand the falling scores.
Of course, the scores a student gets on a test during their junior year are not necessarily the best they will ever do. Students can retake the SAT during their senior year to aim for a higher mark. A measure of how well Idaho’s graduating seniors did on the test is typically released in the fall.
Last year, Idaho’s graduating class of 2018 scored an average 1001 points on the test.
Still, of graduating seniors, only 33 percent of students met both of the tests math and language benchmarks.
Idaho has about five years to improve that outcome dramatically if the state hopes to make a testing goal set by the State Board of Education in its strategic plan.
Dean Kahler, vice provost for enrollment at the University of Idaho, said the school wants to help.
“Certainly we want our students to be well prepared to continue on in their education,” Kahler said. “We want to do our very best to partner with our school districts and help those students prepare for the exam, and score as strongly as they possibly can.”