AUBURN — The percentage of the city's 11th-graders who scored at proficient levels for the SAT test in May was lower than state averages in four subject areas, data shared with the School Committee on Wednesday night showed.
But average scores for Auburn compared to state scores showed less of a difference.
On the bright side, Auburn's math scores showed improvement during the last three years, as did a group of low-scoring students, Shelly Mogul, curriculum coordinator for the School Department, said.
“We've closed the gap significantly in math and have made some progress,” Mogul said.
For the last three years, all 11th-graders in Maine have taken the SAT, a standardized test for college admission, as the annual assessment. The move to the tougher testing was to ensure all students graduate from high school ready for college.
In May, 44 percent of Auburn's 11th-graders scored at proficient levels in reading on the SAT, compared with the state average of 50 percent. In math 47 percent of Auburn students scored proficient, compared with the state average of 49 percent.
In writing the percentages were Auburn, 39 percent; the state average, 45 percent. And in science, Auburn, 36 percent; the state average 44 percent.
When looking at average scores, there was less of a difference. In reading, Auburn's average score was 1,140, compared to the state average of 1,142. In math, Auburn's average was the same as the state average, 1,142. In writing, Auburn was 1,138; the state 1,140. And in science, Auburn was 1,139, the state 1,141.
Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said she's pleased about math score improvements, but wants to see more progress.
Taking the SAT instead of other standardized tests means students need higher levels of courses completed to do well, she said. “The work the high school is doing is going to be reflective in the coming years. It takes time.”
The high school has boosted work with freshmen to help more reach the higher benchmarks. “We know we need to do better,” Grondin said. “The staff is taking ownership of that, giving the kids the skills.”
One reason Auburn's percentages are below state averages is the city's demographics, Mogul said.
“We've had significant increases in free and reduced lunch population. Auburn has the second highest child poverty in the state. The demographics challenge us.”
Before recent high school reform at Edward Little, teaching has been traditional, Mogul said. “That model doesn't work for all kids.”
Changes to proficiency based learning, where students will be more in charge of their learning and teachers act more as facilitators, is hoped to boost student engagement and learning. That change is in the early stages, Grondin said.
So far 20 out of 80 Edward Little teachers have had proficiency based training and are using new learning methods in their classrooms.
Three of those teachers, science teacher Kim Finnetry, math teacher Val Ackley and English teacher Erik Gray, told School Committee members that students are responding with greater interest.
Gray said a lot of his freshmen “are struggling readers or nonreaders. I made it my mission this year to make them readers.” Student voice and student choice has become the mantra in his classes, Gray said. Encouraging students to read something they're interested in is helping more get engaged, he said.
SAT results categorize students in four areas: proficient with distinction, proficient, partially proficient and substantially below proficient.
Auburn has reduced its numbers in the lowest category, Mogul said. More Auburn students moved from substantially below proficient to partially proficient. “You don't see that in the overall proficiency percentages, but it's important data to look at.”
In the last three years the percentage in the lowest level improved from 28 to 22 percent in reading; 30 to 24 percent in writing; 41 to 33 percent in science; and 31 to 21 percent in math.
Math improvements were made by changing curriculum ensuring more students had math they'd encounter on the college test.
This year the high school has made math labs available during the day, offering more students extra help. Students are taking advantage of the labs, and teachers are energized by their interest, math teacher Val Ackley said.
In other business, Grondin said preliminary enrollment numbers show Auburn has gained 30 students compared to last year. In 2010-11 Auburn had 3,636 students. This year total enrollment is 3,666.
Official enrollment numbers will be taken on Oct. 1, the date schools must report the data to the state.