Education

Easier test, higher scores – what the new SAT results say about your school

Lake Norman Charter School in Huntersville topped the Charlotte region in U.S. News & World Report's 2018 Best High Schools list.
Lake Norman Charter School in Huntersville topped the Charlotte region in U.S. News & World Report's 2018 Best High Schools list. Observer file photo

Average SAT scores shot up in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and across North Carolina, as the state released results from a college admission exam that was tweaked to reflect modern needs over academic tradition.

Starting in spring of 2016, The College Board eliminated obscure vocabulary words, dropped the penalty for guessing and made the essay optional. That brought the maximum score back down to 1,600 – the level known to generations of college-bound students who took the test before the essay was added in 2005.

North Carolina’s public school students scored an average of 1,074 on the math and English sections of the current exam, compared with an average of 1,010 for those two sections in 2016. In CMS the average rose from 1,001 to 1,066.

Providence High in south Charlotte logged the county’s highest score, with an average of 1,239. Lake Norman Charter School in Huntersville was second with 1,201 (see accompanying box for all Mecklenburg schools).

Charlotte Learning Academy, a charter school with only 11 test-takers, logged the lowest average at 772, followed by West Charlotte High at 874.

High SAT scores can matter. This year’s average SAT score for N.C. State’s freshmen class was 1,308. At UNC-Chapel Hill, scores for the middle 50 percent of freshmen admitted ranged from 640 to 720 on the reading section and 630 to 730 on the math section.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, says the revisions weren’t designed to bump up the numbers but to better reflect the vocabulary and math skills that today’s students need.

Drawing meaningful comparisons from the averages is difficult. Unlike the ACT, a college readiness exam that is given to all North Carolina 11th-graders, the SAT is optional. Self-selection means the test-takers at one school may include only the most motivated students aiming for college, while another school may encourage larger numbers to take the test.

SAT participation rates dropped this year, in CMS and statewide, following a trend that started in 2012 when the state started requiring the ACT.

The average scores also tend to track school demographics, with low-poverty suburban schools at the top of the list and high-poverty urban ones at the bottom. Families with means and motivation can send their children to SAT-prep courses (the test itself costs $46 without the essay and $60 with it).

Not surprisingly, high schools with admission requirements also logged strong averages. The N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, a public boarding school in Durham that serves gifted students from across the state, had the state’s highest average SAT score at 1,410. In CMS, Levine and Cato middle college high schools were in the county’s top five.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system had the state’s highest districtwide average at 1,231. Wake County, the state’s largest, averaged 1,130, while CMS came in below the state average at 1,066.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

SAT averages

Here are results reported for Mecklenburg County high schools. Those marked with an asterisk are charter schools; the rest are part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The highest possible score is 1,600, or 800 on each section.

School

Total

Reading/writing

Math

# Tested

% Tested

Providence

1239

618

622

230

50.4

Lake Norman Charter*

1201

599

602

156

83.4

Ardrey Kell High

1194

596

599

383

59.3

Levine Middle College

1182

593

589

35

24.6

Cato Middle College

1174

583

592

48

34.0

Myers Park

1170

590

580

269

42.1

Hough

1161

587

574

375

66.1

Community School of Davidson*

1151

586

565

86

67.7

East Mecklenburg

1136

567

569

191

54.3

Butler

1120

560

560

230

46.2

South Mecklenburg

1116

564

552

316

51.1

Olympic math/science

1115

555

560

91

66.9

Northwest Arts

1093

564

528

88

64.2

Olympic TEAM

1086

551

534

23

46.9

Queens Grant*

1054

533

521

50

44.6

Independence

1045

527

518

205

41.1

North Mecklenburg

1042

533

509

187

45.4

Olympic biotech

1040

520

519

51

42.9

Mallard Creek

1037

526

511

273

48.2

Hopewell

1024

518

506

173

45.8

Berry Technology

1003

508

496

217

62.0

Olympic Renaissance

996

514

482

57

41.9

Performance Learning Center

993

524

469

19

63.3

Olympic leadership

983

495

488

39

33.3

Cochrane Collegiate

958

487

471

12

57.1

Rocky River

949

483

467

179

49.0

Vance

947

479

469

183

47.4

Davis Military/Leadership

941

481

460

14

46.7

Harding

920

468

452

136

45.6

Garinger

906

458

448

151

48.4

West Mecklenburg

896

456

441

241

58.4

West Charlotte

874

439

434

180

54.9

Charlotte Learning Academy*

772

380

392

11

34.4

Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction

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