When SAT scores were released on Sept. 14, the main take-away was reading scores dropping to their lowest point ever. For the Class of 2011, the national SAT mean reading score was 497. Since 1972—the first year reading scores were reported, the national reading mean score had dropped below 500 for just three other senior classes.
The drop got me thinking. How did our poorest and richest members of the Class of '11 in Montgomery County Public Schools perform on the SAT reading test?
The MCPS high school with the largest percentage of poor kids is Wheaton High School. In 2010, 60 percent of Wheaton students received Free and Reduced Meals. The MCPS high school with the smallest percentage of poor kids is Whitman High School. In 2011, 2 percent of Whitman students received FARMS. So, using FARMS, Wheaton represents our poorest members of the Class of '11 and Whitman represents our richest.
Here are a few notable facts about 2011 SAT scores:
- Wheaton’s poor seniors—those on FARMS—scored 429 on the SAT reading test. Nationally, seniors with family incomes of $20,000 or less—the lowest income group captured by the College Board—scored 434 on the SAT reading test. So, Wheaton’s poor seniors performed five points below poor seniors elsewhere in the nation. (Note: I wish MCPS collected actual family income data so comparisons between income groups would be more precise than what I’m doing here.)
- Essentially, Whitman has no poor seniors to compare to Wheaton’s poor seniors. So, I thought it would be fair to focus on just their white seniors. The Whitman white seniors scored 623 on the SAT reading test. Nationally, seniors with family incomes of $200,000 or more—the highest income group tracked by the College Board—scored 568 points on the SAT reading test. So, Whitman’s affluent white seniors performed 75 points higher than their affluent peers elsewhere in the nation. (Note: I live right around the corner from Whitman. I think it fair to label the vast majority of my Bethesda neighbors as affluent.)
- The SAT reading score gap between the high-flying white Whitman seniors and Wheaton's poor seniors is 194 points (623 minus 429). The difference is absolutely mind-blowing, and the gap was larger than what you find nationally when contrasting the poor-rich performance gap. Nationally, seniors with family incomes of $20,000 or less scored 434 on the SAT reading test, and those in the highest family income group—incomes more than $200,000—scored 568. So, nationally, the poor-rich performance gap was 134 points (568 minus 434).
- Another really interesting SAT fact about Wheaton High was how low its black seniors performed in reading (there was, however, one other MCPS high school with lower black reading scores—Rockville High with a mean black reading score of 416). Wheaton’s black seniors scored pretty much lower than any subgroup in the nation. The black Wheaton seniors scored 421 on the SAT reading test. The national average for all black SAT seniors was 428. The national average for all poor kids was 434 points, and the national average for seniors with parents with no high school diploma—dropouts—was 421. And the gap between the high-flying white Whitman kids and the black Wheaton kids was 202 points (623 minus 421).
Now, I realize that the contrasts discussed here have limits. Nonetheless, I believe they drive home one really important point: MCPS has not eliminated the SAT reading score gap between its poor and rich students nor between its black and white students.