As part of her presentation on the Chatham High School class of 2012 to the Board of Education Monday, Director of School Counseling Julie Patterson also presented information on student performance on standardized tests.
While many colleges are becoming standardized testing-optional, Patterson said it is still a “necessary evil.”
She said offering the preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test, or PSAT, is important because it allows students to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. To qualify, students’ testing sections – critical reading, math and writing – are added together, and the sums are ranked to determine the nation’s highest scores.
The top two to five percent scores are commended, and the top one percent in each home state is goes on to a semifinalist competition.
“New Jersey typically has one of the highest [semifinalist] selection indeces of all states,” Patterson said, explaining that the state’s index is now 223, up from 200 when she first started.
Chatham High had 25 graduates from the 2012 class commended, and two ranked as semifinalists.
In addition to working to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, Patterson said that many students often do better with the SAT after taking the PSAT. And she said getting a large amount of students to sit for the test helps those chances, saying that 95 of CHS students in 2012 took the PSAT.
CHS’s SAT participation rates – 90 percent – were nearly twice the national rate, which was half of all students. The New Jersey rate was 78 percent.
The SAT tests the same categories as the SAT and grades from 200 to 800. Chatham’s average score for 2012 of 570 in critical reading is 70 points higher than the national average. The local math score of 591 is 77 point higher than nationally. And the local writing score outflanks the nation by nearly a hundred.
In 2012, CHS students scored a 26.6 on the American College Test, or ACT. The test, which is an alternative to the SAT, is scored on a 1-to-36 scale. New Jersey students scored an average of 23.4, while students nationwide scored an average of 21.1.
The ACT differs from the SAT in that it scores four areas: English, reading, math and science. Additionally the reading section includes selections from various subjects with which students have grown familiar, including social studies, natural sciences and the humanities. There is also an optional writing test that is scored separately.
Patterson explained that the ACT has become more popular with students in the past few years and is currently accepted by any college that also takes SAT scores, which had not been the case until recently.
As a result and to better prepare students, CHS has begun the offering preliminary ACT test during sophomore year, as opposed to the PSAT both sophomore and junior year.
“Our hope was to expose them to both, see what they do better on and then concentrate on that,” Patterson said.
However, she said individual students’ scores are about “on par” for both the SAT and ACT, although one parent in the audience mentioned that her son prefers the ACT.
SAT Subject Tests
The high school also scored better than the national mean in SAT Subject Tests – formerly known as SAT II – in seven of nine examinations. Of the other two tests, one CHS score has the same mean as the national score, while one is slightly below. Schools only receive reports regarding tests in which more than five students have participated.
Patterson explained the subject tests, which account for 20 tests across five subject areas, are only required by about 17 percent of colleges for admission and placement. About 40 percent of all district students take these tests, a significant increase from the 17 percent state participation rate and 16 percent nationwide rate.
Of the 379 Chatham High School students – mostly juniors and seniors with some sophomores – who took 718 advanced placement tests in 2012, 88 percent received a qualifying grade.
A qualifying grade is a score of three or higher on a one-to-five scale. However, Patterson noted colleges vary greatly in deciding what scores will allow students to receive credit.
A little more than 40 percent scored a five on their tests.
Patterson said that most students take the tests after completing the related advanced placement course, although some elect to take it independently.