O.C. SAT Scores High but Slip as More Take Test


Last year’s graduates from Orange County public high schools outscored their peers across the state and nation on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but most local districts saw their average scores slip from the previous year as increasing numbers of students took the tests.

The performance continued the county’s tradition of high achievement on the math and verbal standardized tests, key factors used in college admissions.

“I think the county looks very well for the percentages of kids in the districts that took the exam,” said John F. Dean, superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education. “We want to encourage the students to take the exams. The more kids we can get thinking in that direction, the more kids are heading to college, and I think it’s wonderful.”

Newport-Mesa Unified Supt. Mac Bernd also attributed the drop in his district’s scores to the growing number of students taking the tests, many of whom have poorer academic backgrounds and might not have considered college in previous years.


“You’re talking about two issues. You’re talking about quality and you’re talking about equity,” Bernd said. “They’re both important. You’ve got to work on them both.

“The idea was to have the percentage (participating) go up and have the scores go up. The worst case is when they both go down and the best case is when they both go up. We’ve got the middle case.”

The county’s average was not computed, but every local district except Santa Ana Unified bested California and U.S. average scores on the math segment. On the verbal portion, Santa Ana Unified, Garden Grove Unified and Anaheim Union--the three districts with the largest number of students whose native language is not English--were the only districts in Orange County to fall below state and national averages.

Still, nine of the 15 local districts saw test scores decline from last year on both portions of the tests, some more than 10 points.


Statewide, members of the Class of 1994 scored 413 on the verbal test and 482 on the math exam, two points lower on each section than graduates achieved the previous year, according to data to be released today by the nonprofit College Board, which administers the SATs. Nationally, students averaged 423 on the verbal segment and 479 on the math portion.

Among the county’s 58 public high schools, 21 scored below the state average on the verbal test and nine were below the average in math.

Orange County’s largest district, Santa Ana Unified, had the county’s lowest scores: 335 on the verbal test (down from 344 last year) and 428 on the math (down from 436 in 1993). One quarter of Santa Ana’s Class of 1994 took the SAT.

“Obviously, (we) were disappointed and concerned,” district spokeswoman Diane Thomas said, adding that administrators plan an in-depth analysis of the drop in test scores.


Thomas noted that while slightly fewer members of the Class of 1994 took the SAT compared to the Class of 1993, some 121 students took the American College Testing program, another admissions exam, this year. The combined number of test-takers shows an overall rise in college-bound students.

The scores are “very new information and we’re going to be looking at (them) hard,” she said. "(We’ll be asking) what changes have there been? Were they positive or negative changes? And what changes do we need to make to make things work better?”

Laguna Beach Unified posted the county’s highest average verbal score, 471. Irvine Unified, traditionally among statewide leaders in all test scores, had by far the best math average, 578, nearly 100 points higher than the national average of 479 and more than 25 points higher than the closest competitor among Orange County districts.

Irvine also had the widest participation in the exam, with 71% of last year’s graduating class taking the tests.


“It starts with hard-working, motivated students and supportive parents, but I think it’s a function of a focused effort on what happens in the classroom, on learning, and less on structure,” Irvine Unified Supt. David E. Brown said. “We restructure and change what improves learning, not what sounds catchy and what’s current.”

Brown said his district offers little classroom-based training for the SATs, but that many students participate in private tutoring programs or use computer software to help prepare for the standardized tests.

Brown credited Irvine’s large population of stable, middle-class families who are keenly interested in their children’s education and the district’s decentralized management style for its success.

“Where we’ve been talking (about and giving) lip service nationally to site-based management, we’ve been doing that here for a long time,” he said. “I think the results are pretty amazing.”


Among individual schools, Irvine’s University High showed the highest scores, averaging 502 in verbal, 607 in math. None of the county’s 57 other public high schools broke 500 on the verbal test or 600 on the math. University’s combined score of 1109 was more than 200 points above the state and national averages.

Other schools with high scores on the verbal section were Laguna Beach High (471) and Corona del Mar High (473). In math, Fountain Valley High, Foothill High in Tustin and Irvine’s Woodbridge High all posted the second-highest average score of 566.

Santa Ana High had the county’s lowest score on the verbal section, 304. Century High, fared only slightly better, at 311, and had the county’s poorest average math score, 367. Santa Ana’s Saddleback High was also more than 100 points below the state and national averages with a score of 369.

Saddleback Valley Unified saw the largest gains among Orange County districts, jumping 11 points in math to 532 and six points in verbal to 451.


“I’m so excited,” said Saddleback School Board President Dore J. Gilbert. “We’re thrilled. It’s just one more positive thing that’s going on in the district.”

But in the Brea Olinda Unified district, the latest round of scores were another bit of bad news for an award-winning high school that spent the summer struggling through a scandal over illegally altered student transcripts.

Though the school’s 1994 SAT scores--428 verbal and 523 math--remain above state and national averages, they show one of the county’s largest declines from the previous year--nine points in verbal and 14 in math.

Brea Assistant Supt. Peter Boothroyd said the district has instituted an SAT preparation course at the high school to curb any downward trend in scores.


“The more students you have taking them,” the harder it is to keep the average up, Boothroyd said. “The high-end kids always take (SATs) so now it’s probably more of the kids on the lower end.”

In Orange Unified, where scores dropped four points in verbal to 438 and declined 14 points in math to 514, acting Supt. Robert French attributed the change to unusually high scores among the Class of 1993.

“I like to look over five years because one year may be a blip up or a blip down,” French said.

“The Class of ’94 is a different group than the Class of ’93, they’re different kids. On a five-year plane we’re on an upward swing. If we were going down over five years, then I’d worry.”


* A NEW HIGH: Irvine’s University High outperforms all competitors. A13

SAT Scores by District

Continuing a trend of high performance on the college admissions tests, most members of Orange County’s Class of 1994 outscored their peers statewide and across the nation on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. But most districts saw their average scores slip as increasing numbers of students took the tests.

1993-94 1993 1994 change District Verbal Math Verbal Math Verbal Math Anaheim Union 399 502 401 509 +2 +7 Brea Olinda Unified 437 537 428 523 -9 -14 Capistrano Unified 457 528 449 523 -8 -5 Fullerton Joint Union 437 523 436 520 -1 -3 Garden Grove Unified 389 504 385 501 -4 -3 Huntington Beach Union 445 538 444 551 -1 +13 Irvine Unified 466 576 470 578 +4 +2 Laguna Beach Unified 460 502 471 504 +11 +2 Los Alamitos Unified 459 545 455 532 -4 -13 Newport-Mesa Unified 459 544 450 537 -9 -7 Orange Unified 442 528 438 514 -4 -14 Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified 439 536 436 533 -3 -3 Saddleback Valley Unified 445 521 451 532 +6 +11 Santa Ana Unified 351 434 335 428 -16 -6 Tustin Unified 450 532 449 530 -1 -2 California average 415 484 413 482 -2 -2 National average 424 478 423 479 -1 +1


Seniors taking District test Anaheim Union 31% Brea Olinda Unified 69% Capistrano Unified 50% Fullerton Joint Union 54% Garden Grove Unified 23% Huntington Beach Union 52% Irvine Unified 71% Laguna Beach Unified 54% Los Alamitos Unified 59% Newport-Mesa Unified 50% Orange Unified 41% Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified 58% Saddleback Valley Unified 60% Santa Ana Unified 25% Tustin Unified 50% California average 46% National average 42%

Source: Individual districts, College Board

Researched by JODI WILGOREN / Los Angeles Times

SATs by School


Here are the school-by-school averages for the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of the Class of 1994. Irvine’s University High School had both the highest verbal and math averages. District averages also are included.

District/School Verbal Math Anaheim Union 401 509 Anaheim 371 477 Cypress 420 521 Katella 401 515 Kennedy 403 527 Loara 420 524 Magnolia 364 489 Savanna 404 485 Western 395 494 Brea Olinda Unified 428 523 Brea Olinda 428 523 Capistrano Unified 449 523 Capistrano Valley 448 533 Dana Hills 454 522 San Clemente 441 513 Aliso Niguel * * Fullerton Joint 436 520 Union Buena Park 381 473 Fullerton 428 481 La Habra 412 486 Sonora 439 486 Sunny Hills 456 564 Troy 457 539 Garden Grove 385 501 Unified Bolsa Grande 366 487 Garden Grove 385 483 La Quinta 397 520 Los Amigos 372 511 Pacifica 431 520 Rancho 364 506 Santiago 355 468 Huntington Beach 444 541 Union Huntington Beach 444 517 Westminster 396 491 Marina 456 551 Fountain Valley 453 566 Edison 458 562 Ocean View 429 521 Irvine Unified 470 578 Irvine 448 555 University 502 607 Woodbridge 449 566 Laguna Beach 471 504 Unified Laguna Beach 471 504 Los Alamitos 455 532 Unified Los Alamitos 455 532 Newport-Mesa 450 537 Unified Costa Mesa 406 530 Corona del Mar 473 559 Estancia 438 518 Newport Harbor 450 525 Orange Unified 438 514 Canyon 441 513 El Modena 434 522 Orange 403 471 Villa Park 461 539 Placentia-Yorba 436 533 Linda Unified El Dorado 436 538 Esperanza 449 542 Valencia 410 509 Saddleback 451 532 Valley Unified El Toro 461 541 Laguna Hills 451 540 Mission Viejo 453 531 Trabuco 435 512 Santa Ana Unified 335 428 Century 311 367 Saddleback 371 369 Santa Ana 304 403 Valley 325 448 Tustin Unified 449 530 Tustin 422 490 Foothill 473 566

* No Class of 1994

Sources: Individual schools, the College Board


Researched by JODI WILGOREN / Los Angeles Times