Shepaug adds English support to address dipping SAT scores

File photo of a Shepaug Valley School commencement ceremony.

File photo of a Shepaug Valley School commencement ceremony.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WASHINGTON — Region 12 is going back to grammatical basics to boost its sagging SAT English scores.

The change comes after the district saw the average English scores drop to 530 in 2018 from 574 in 2017. This translated in a combined score drop to 1058 in 2018 from 1107 in 2017, according to the state Department of Education.

The district has invested in ways to improve the math scores, including dedicating advisory periods for tutoring, offering after-school and weekend classes, adding grade-level assessments to revise the curriculum and using the PSAT to identify improvement areas. Though the SAT math scores remained fairly level from 533 in 2017 to 528 in 2018, officials reported a 37-point jump between the juniors’ PSAT scores in October to the SAT in April.

“We didn’t have time to put supports in for English in the school day and so we see the difference there,” Lori Ferreira, Shepaug Valley School’s associate principal, said at a school board meeting. “Now we know.”

To fix this, school officials are adding enrichment options and revising the curriculum for students in seventh through ninth grades to help students understand the grammatical jargon and word structures to better answer the SAT’s questions. Ferreira said the school needs to change its approach because the test focuses on language at the granular level.

“We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” Ferreira said. “We do some things really well and we can’t change them.”

She said the school has a strong writing program that teaches students how to be critical, write fluidly, examine historical perspectives and present arguments. This is why the changes are coming before 10th grade, starting as early as third grade.

“We don’t want to lose that conceptual, but we want to make sure we are skill-building on the way,” she said.

Ferreira offered some examples of the grammatical jargon students now have to know for the test.

“What are the 10 most common conjunctive adverbs? When do you use these conjunctive adverbs? What is the difference between a conjunctive adverb, a coordinating subjunctive and a subordinating conjunctive?” she said.

Shepaug’s scores are still better than the Connecticut averages of 516 for English and 503 for math. The U.S. average is 487 for English and 483 for math.

“We’re doing better than the state and nation, but we’re not doing well enough,” Ferreira said.

She said she would like to bring Shepaug’s combined scores up to 1148, which was the highest score reported in its district reference group.

When she reached out to successful schools in other district reference groups, she was told most of those students attend SAT prep courses outside of school or have private tutors. Ferreira instead recommended adding enrichment options during Shepaug’s breaks and during the summer.

Superintendent of Schools Megan Bennett said these changes will ease students into the material.

Board members and administrators agreed it’s more important for students to understand the material than to learn how to get a high score on the test.

“The SAT will help you get into college, but it won’t help you pass the courses, where the other prep will,” Ferreira said.