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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Students in Department of Defense Dependents Schools in the Pacific generally did not score as high as the national averages in the SAT tests for 2004.

According to test results released recently, the national average for the SATs, the most widely taken college entrance exams in the United States, was 518 for the math portion and 508 for the verbal portion of the test.

Students in DODDS-Pacific averaged 509 on the math portion and 499 in verbal skills.

Still, the math scores in the Pacific were higher than the 503 average for all Defense Department schools. Verbal scores in the Pacific lagged 7 points behind the score of 506 for DODDS worldwide.

School officials say the scores should be taken with a grain of salt and not be used to judge school quality.

“Assessments like the SAT are inappropriate measures for such purposes,” stated a DODDS-Pacific release accompanying the scores. Many factors contribute to the scores, including the percentage of students taking the test and their socioeconomic status, the release stated.

A breakdown of the test scores in the Pacific showed that of the 649 students who took the SATs:

• The 40 students tested on Guam averaged 531 in verbal and 507 in math.

• The 192 students in DODDS-Okinawa averaged 503 in verbal and 500 in math.

• The 189 students in South Korea who took the test averaged 503 in verbal and 535 in math.

• The 228 students tested in mainland Japan averaged 488 in verbal and 494 in math.

Last year’s emphasis on math curriculum contributed to the rise in math scores, even though the overall SAT math score of 503 for DODDS is lower than the national average of 518, said Janet Rope, the administrator for accountability, accreditation, research and evaluation at Department of Defense Education Activity, or DODEA, headquartered in Arlington, Va.

A tweaking of the math curriculum could contribute to those relatively lower — and declining — scores for verbal skills, she suggested.

“DODEA is in the process of implementing a more clearly defined math curriculum and providing support classes in math to ensure that the positive trend we are now seeing continues.”

However, last year the system emphasized mathematics, offering more tutorial time for students needing help in the subject and making it easier for students to take the pre-test, Rope said.

“Students who are struggling in the area of math can take algebra and geometry lab classes, which supplement the regular algebra and geometry classes,” she said. “This allows students to spend more time learning math and gives teachers the chance to teach the same math content in a variety of ways so that all students’ learning needs are met.”

She said DODEA also is having all 10th-graders take the PSAT, a test designed to prepare students for the SAT.

“This may have helped students approach the math portion of the SAT with a little more confidence and improved their ability to communicate what they knew about math,” she said. “Beginning with this school year, we will also be paying for all 11th-graders to take the PSAT.”

The improvement in math scores is a “substantial change,” she said. It “shows an ongoing trend of math improvement that can be traced over several years. In 2003, our students’ math scores showed a one-point increase.

“Maintaining a steady upward trend over several years is more important than a jump in a single year,” she said.

On the flip side, the students’ average verbal test scores dropped by two points.

“The two-point drop we saw in the 2004 verbal score is a perfect example of why it is so important to look for trends over a three-year period,” Rope said.

“The 2002 verbal score of 504 increased by five points in 2003 to 509,” she said, meaning that even when this year’s two-point decrease is factored in, it “still results in a net gain of two points when you look at the scores across the three-year period.”

“Of course we are never completely satisfied with our scores, so we will continue working to meet the learning needs of all our students.”

The SAT is designed to predict how successful high school students will be in college academic work.

Minority DODEA students perform better than their stateside public school peers. Some reasons, DODDS officials suggested, include DODDS’s relatively small schools and classrooms, which means students don’t have to compete and struggle as much for teacher attention; supportive and involved parents and communities; a least one parent with guaranteed employment; and consistent health care.

Both the SAT and ACT tests are available in Department of Defense schools but most schools prefer one of the tests over the other. Rope suggested students consult guidance counselors about the best test for them to take, given the colleges they hope to attend.

According to The College Board, 80 percent of colleges that do not have an open admission policy accept SAT results as part of their admission requirements.

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