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Sociologist William Julius Wilson points out that "the person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman. These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, perseverance."  This is true.  But until we have a test that measures character, leadership, creativity, and perseverance, we will have to stick to talking about SAT scores.

Bulletin Board

  • Please join the Civitas Institute on September 27 at the Doubletree Brownstone Hotel in Raleigh for their monthly poll presentation.  The event will begin at 11:45 am, and this month’s guest commentator will be Art Pope.  To register, visit the Civitas Institute website.
  • Join the Civitas Institute on September 28 at the Marriott Southpark in Charlotte for their monthly poll presentation.  The event will begin at 11:45 am.  This month’s guest commentator will be Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg), state Senator elect from the 41st district.  To register, visit the Civitas Institute website.
  • The John Locke Foundation cordially invites you to a Headliner Luncheon with our special guest Dr. Charles Murray, Author of Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.  The luncheon will begin at noon on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at the Woman’s Club of Raleigh (3300 Woman’s Club Drive). Tickets are $30.00 and may be purchased online.
  • The North Carolina History Project would like educators and homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school courses in North Carolina history.  Please provide links to N.C. History Project encyclopedia articles and other primary and secondary source material, if possible.  Go to the N.C. History Project website for further information.
  • JLF’s research newsletter archive is Gangnam style.


Yesterday, The College Board released 2012 SAT results for North Carolina and the nation.  The state’s combined score (reading and math) was 997, a four-point decrease from last year and a seven-point increase since 2010.  I’ll have more to say about this later.  First, here is a brief overview:

  • The top five school district SAT averages belonged to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City (1194), Watauga County (1081), Asheville City (1077), Wake County (1063), and Mounty Airy City (1056).  The bottom five districts were Weldon City (758), Hertford County (778), Northampton County (785), Washington County (792), and Halifax County (794).
  • Between 2010 and 2012, Hyde and Camden were the most improved school districts, increasing their average combined SAT score by 98 and 74 points, respectively.  Participation rates increased for both districts during this period.  Madison County (-84) and Whiteville City (-73) had the largest average decreases during this period.
  • Three North Carolina public schools increased their combined average SAT score by over 100 points between 2010 and 2012.  Scotland High School of Visual and Performing Arts had the largest increase — a 134-point jump.  The other two big gainers were Clover Garden Charter School in Alamance County (+129) and Edgecombe Early College High School (+101).  Even more impressive, Clover Garden and Edgecombe Early College had significant increases in their participation rates during this period.
  • The Early College at Guilford (1377) had the highest average combined SAT score of any public school in the state. Raleigh Charter High School (1254), East Chapel Hill High School (1208), Asheville High School of Inquiry and Life Science (1194), Chapel Hill High School (1185), and Carrboro High School (1185) rounded out the top five.
  • The top five average combined SAT scores for charter schools in 2012 were as follows: Raleigh Charter High School (1254), Gray Stone Day School in Stanly County (1149), Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy in Rutherford County (1145), Woods Charter School in Chatham County (1127), and Franklin Academy in Wake County (1106).  The charter school with the lowest SAT scores and a minimum participation rate of 50 percent was Quality Education Academy in Forsyth County (857).
  • The district schools with the lowest SAT scores and a minimum participation rate of 50 percent were Northampton County High School (739), Weldon STEM High School (758), and T. Wingate Andrews High School in Guilford County (765).

North Carolina’s SAT scores follow a national trend of steep declines in scores.  This year, the national average score fell by one point compared to 2011 and five points compared to 2010.  Don’t blame the North Carolina GOP for the drop in average SAT scores because it is happening everywhere. 

It is also essential to remember that SAT test takers have been in school for a decade prior to taking the test.  Changes in student performance are reflections of their cumulative educational experience and not one or two years of reform initiatives.  Most importantly, SAT scores reflect only a portion of our public school population, namely the two-thirds of high school students with the ability and/or interest in attending an institution of higher education.  For these reasons, we should interpret SAT scores with caution.

Random Thought

If colors communicate meaning, what does gamboge represent?

Facts and Stats

North Carolina had the 17th highest participation rate (68 percent) and the eighth highest combined score among states that had participation rates above 60 percent.  According to College Board researchers, Pearson correlation analysis suggests that the higher the percentage of students taking the SAT, the lower the average SAT scores.  This makes sense intuitively.  States with higher participation rates typically have a greater share of marginal students in their test-taking population.  In turn, the state’s average score will be lower. 

In the case of North Carolina, however, this may not be the case.  College Board researchers write,

In 2012, the Pearson correlation between the percent of students taking the SAT and the mean total SAT score for public schools was 0.24. These correlations suggest that participation rate is a lesser factor in predicting SAT scores for public school systems and public schools in North Carolina than for states. In view of the above correlations, schools and school systems in North Carolina should exercise caution when attributing decreases or increases in mean SAT scores to changes in participation rate. (NC SAT Report, p. 24)

Statewide participation rates have increased in each of the last two years.  This increase may account for a small portion of the decrease in the state average score.  College Board officials suggest that changes in test-taking patterns, such as inclusion of a writing section and decrease in repeat test taking, may play a significant role in such declines.


I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].

Education Acronym of the Week

CR — Critical Reading

Quote of the Week

"You must realize that honorary degrees are given generally to people whose SAT scores were too low to get them into schools the regular way. As a matter of fact, it was my SAT scores that led me into my present vocation in life, comedy."

– Neil Simon

Click here for the Education Update archive.