Idaho’s latest SAT scores a mixed bag

(UPDATED, 3:01 p.m., with more details on district and school scores.)

Idaho’s new SAT scores are in, and the scores on the college-entrance exam are mixed.

Students taking the exam in April posted an average score of 511 on the reading and writing portion of the test, the State Department of Education said Tuesday. That average score — just above the midpoint on a section with a scoring range from 200 to 800 — means that 62 percent of test-takers met the exam’s college- and career-readiness benchmark.

The math scores were lower — as once again, Idaho students posted middling marks on a math standardized test. The average math score came in at 491, with only 35 percent of students hitting the college-readiness benchmark.

The state released the most recent SAT scores Tuesday morning.

And here are some key things to know about the SAT — and Tuesday’s scores:

The “college-readiness” benchmark. The College Board, the nonprofit that develops the SAT, establishes these benchmarks. The College Board now uses 480 as the threshold in reading/writing, and 530 was established as the college-readiness benchmark in math.

In the past, Idaho students fared worse on the SAT’s college-readiness threshold, with only a fifth of students hitting the College Board’s mark. This time around, 33 percent of Idaho students met both College Board benchmarks. But this year, the College Board also used a new and less stringent definition. “College-readiness” is now defined as the likelihood of pull a “C” average in college, instead of a “B-minus” average.

A new scoring system. In April, Idaho juniors were road-testing a changed SAT.

Most notably, the new SAT uses a completely different scoring system. Students take two sections — math and reading/writing. A perfect score in each section is 800, so an overall perfect score is 1,600. The old SAT was broken into three sections — math, critical reading and writing — with a perfect score of 2,400.

The new scoring system makes it difficult, if not impossible, to compare the April scores to previous results.

One district’s experience. The State Department of Education released district- and school-level scores Tuesday afternoon. But district officials have had their local scores in hand for several days. Boise school Superintendent Don Coberly blogged about the district’s numbers Monday.

Boise students beat the state’s performance on college- and career-readiness: 70 percent of Boise students hit the benchmark in reading and writing; 45 percent met the threshold in math; and 43 percent of students hit the benchmarks in both sections.

SAT scores are strongly correlated with student demographics, Coberly noted. Students in wealthier schools fare better than students in poorer schools. And in Boise, the highest SAT scores were recorded in Boise and Timberline high schools, which have fewer students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, and fewer students with limited English skills.

Demographic divides. The “new” SAT produced some familiar results.

Many of this year’s top performers were charter schools with low student poverty rates. Meanwhile, alternative schools posted many of the state’s lowest SAT scores.

The state’s five top average SAT scores, by school: Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy (1,285 composite score); Renaissance High School, Meridian (1,194); Sage International School, Boise (1,143); North Star Charter School, Eagle (1,138); Idaho Distance Education Academy, Deary (1,138).

The state’s five lowest average scores, by school: Cassia High School, Burley (765); Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency Academy, Wilder (754); Oneida High School, Malad (745); Venture High School, Coeur d’Alene (734); American Falls Academy (717).

How the top districts fared. No strong trends. Five of the state’s 10 largest districts topped the statewide average score of 1,002. Five fell short of the state’s average.

Here are the average scores for Idaho’s 10 largest districts:

  • West Ada: composite score, 1,045.
  • Boise: 1.049.
  • Nampa: 951.
  • Pocatello: 994.
  • Bonneville: 1,012.
  • Coeur d’Alene: 993.
  • Idaho Falls: 1,022.
  • Twin Falls: 1,039.
  • Vallivue: 956.
  • Caldwell: 908.

Idaho’s top-performing district. It was one of the state’s smallest districts: Salmon River, a four-day district based in Riggins, with an enrollment of barely 100 students. The school’s average SAT score was 1,123.

The district with the lowest average SAT score was Lapwai, with a composite score of 827.

Who took the test? The scores released Tuesday came from Idaho’s fifth annual SAT Day on April 12, when 17,470 high school juniors took the exam free of charge.

Idaho requires students to take a college-entrance exam in order to graduate from high school, and the state spends more than $1 million a year to cover the costs of SAT Day. That means the SAT Day scores take in a broad cross-section of 11th graders.

An uncertain future. It’s unclear whether the state will continue to bankroll SAT Day. Some school administrators would prefer shifting to another exam, such as the ACT. And on Monday, a State Board of Education subcommittee suggested doing away with the college-entrance exam graduation requirement.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.