FCPS Spins the Decline in SAT Scores

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) posted a misleading article last week entitled Fairfax County Students Continue to Outperform SAT State and Global Averages.”  The school Superintendent, Michelle Reid, touted the same data at the October 12 meeting of the School Board, using a chart labeled “Fairfax seniors have consistently outperformed state and global SAT outcomes.”

The PR folks at FCPS have cherry-picked the data.  Their own statistics show that whereas FCPS seniors in the class of ’19 had an average SAT score of 1218, those in the classes of ’22 and ’23 had average scores of 1185 and 1181 — a decline of 23 points and 27 points respectively.  In comparison, Virginia students overall had only a 6 point decrease in their mean SAT scores between the classes of ’19 and ’23, much less than the 27 point loss for FCPS.

It’s true that, on average, FCPS seniors perform better on the SAT than seniors in Virginia overall.  But that’s comparing apples and oranges.  Significant demographic differences among regions of the Commonwealth likely account for much of the differences in test scores — differences in the education and incomes of parents, in the racial/ethnic/immigrant mix of the student population, in the aspiration of students for higher education, etc.  So, comparing SAT scores in one county to those in Virginia as a whole may be highly misleading.

And, if FCPS is right that it’s relevant to compare Fairfax County to the rest of the Commonwealth, how does it explain the fact that mean SAT scores fell 27 points in Fairfax County (from 1218 to 1181), but only 6 points elsewhere in Virginia (from 1119 to 1113)?  FCPS blames its decline on Covid, but Covid was everywhere.  Perhaps the explanation is that FCPS administrators caved in to the school-closure demands of teacher unions to a greater extent than administrators elsewhere.

On a brighter note, FCPS has taken steps to improve the readiness of its students to take the SAT exam, and the accessibility of the exam to all.  As the Superintendent explained at the October 12 School Board meeting, it has made on-line test-prep resources available to all students for free, and it has opted into the SAT School Day program, which permits students to take the exam at their school during normal class time, rather than traveling to some other location on a weekend.  In the past, some have criticized using the SAT as a factor in college admissions because some students allegedly lack the resources to prepare for it adequately.  FCPS has acted to address this concern.

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  1. Valerie Waddelove on October 15, 2023 at 5:28 pm

    Someone once told me it was better to compare yourself to the best not the worst. The simple twist of statistics doesn’t tell us that Fairfax County has in fact fallen in test scores to join lesser rivals, but uses statistics to tell the story the Administration and Board want people to believe. A 27 point fall in overall test scores is significant, and it should be met head on with a plan for schools to up their game. By eschewing time, money, and effort on woke ideologies, schools need to get back to academics! A good education with supportive parents is the best way to enhance a student’s life, achievements, and success in the future. Excuses,, devaluing grades, or lowering standards are paths to unfulfilled dreams and goals. The part of the Superintendent’s plan that is good is that free test preparation materials will be available to all students, not just those who can afford such courses. Nevertheless, test prep resources do not replace a rigorous academic standards.

    • Mark Spooner on October 15, 2023 at 6:28 pm

      Valerie: Your comments are spot-on. Thanks for adding your words of wisdom.

  2. richard fangman on October 16, 2023 at 9:27 am

    I tip my hat for pointing out the dangerous policies being implemented in the school system. Like Valerie stated, we need to get back to basic teaching rather than pushing the WOKE policies.
    Keep up the good fight.