Auburn SAT scores trail state averages

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.

SAT scores for 11th-graders

Percent proficient in four areas tested:

Critical reading, percent proficient in Auburn, 44 percent, state 50. Auburn average critical reading score, 1,140; state average, 1,142.

Math, percent proficient in Auburn, 47; state, 49. Auburn average math score, 1,142; state average, 1,142.

Writing, percent proficient in Auburn, 39; state 45 percent. Auburn average writing score, 1,138; state, 1,140.

Science, percent proficient in Auburn 36; state 44. Auburn average science score, 1,139; state 1141.

Source: Auburn School Department

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.

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The context

If we keep in mind that the SAT is a test designed to measure how well prepared high school students are to enter college those scores make sense. On the one hand, the education community wants to prepare as many students for college as possible, since post high school education nowadays is pretty much a requirement for a decent job. On the other hand schools have never before had the goal of preparing every student for college. Twenty years ago less than a third of high school students would even have attempted this test since only college bound students took it and many of them would not have had outstanding scores. True, we need to do better but I also think it is worthwhile to note how far we have come especially when you consider the explosion of knowledge that has come about in science and technology.

Joe Gray's picture

Accepting mediocrity is plain wrong

This is another cop out and a way to allow people who fail to feel good about themselves. What is wrong with expecting a high score on any test? Why do we always seem to have to make excuses? These score are just plain awful.

Joe Gray's picture

Dismal results

I know this article is intended to make us feel better that we are only a little behind state averages, but look at the overall numbers.

Reading - state average 50%
Math - state average 49%
Writing - state average 45%
Science - state average 44%

All of these numbers should be troubling to everyone who resides in Maine. The school departments can rationalize all they want about economics and such, but our schools are failing.

It would be helpful if the Sun Journal would publish the regional and national averages as well to get a better comparison but this snapshot they provide is not impressive.

We need to realize that throwing money at the problem is not helping. Here in Auburn we spend almost $35,000,000 a year to educate 3600 students. I believe that is a lot of money. I would expect better results for our investment. And the state averages tell us other communities are not faring any better.

Let's not sugarcoat this and make excuses. Let's refocus our resources and work on educating our children. School boards and teachers need to get more vocal about what we average citizens can do to turn this around. We need to work as a community and not think of the school system in isolation.

Bernice Fraser's picture


It's OK just as long as they are as uneducated as the rest of the state?

Peter Blake's picture


looks to me like Auburn did an over all average job if you look at the last scores and compare them to the state. This is NOT bad, but obviously there is always room for improvement. I think that over the years the demographic would show highs and lows as the population relates to educational curriculum. All students might learn but as was indicated in a previous article the morning the learn at different rates. These rates can vary understanding a concept by as much as 12 to 18 months.

I would bet we all have had something that was difficult to understand, and later we would look at it and say "OH, yeah! Now I understand."


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