It might be subtle, but it's distinct: Average SAT scores in Luzerne County public high schools have been slipping over the last 12 years.
While complete comparisons over that span are not possible because the writing section was added in 2006, breaking down comparisons of the three sections – verbal, math and writing – shows that:
• From 2001 to 2012, average verbal scores dropped in 11 of 13 high schools and remained stagnant in one of the other two. The biggest decline occurred at Wyoming Valley West Secondary Center, where verbal scores dropped from 511 in 2001 to 459 in 2012, a 52-point drop. The maximum score in each section is 800.
• Average math scores in the same time frame dropped in nine of the 13 schools, with the biggest fall at Wilkes-Barre Area's GAR High School, from 460 to 423. The four schools that saw gains were Dallas, Greater Nanticoke Area, Hanover Area and Pittston Area.
• Since the writing section was first introduced in 2006, scores have dropped in eight of the schools. The biggest drop – 54 points – again occurred at GAR, from 465 to 411.
• Average scores have dropped in all three sections in six schools: Crestwood, Hazleton Area, all three high schools in Wilkes-Barre Area, and Wyoming Valley West. Only Hanover Area did not see declines in any section, and even there the news isn't quite as rosy as that might sound: Verbal scores were the same in 2001 and 2012.
Demographics play a clear role in SAT scores. Parent income, in particular, has been tied tightly to SAT results. So comparing year to year doesn't automatically mean a school is doing poorly in prepping students for college.
SAT tests are voluntary, not mandatory like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, so the number of students, student demographics and student commitment to preparation can vary from year to year as well.
The county's slide mirrors state figures, but at a faster rate. Statewide from 2001 to 2011, the average in the verbal section dropped 16 points, from 487 to 471, and math dropped five points, from 485 to 480. The state writing average dropped from 461 to 456 from 2006 to 2012.
The scores used in these calculations do not include schools that had fewer than 10 students take the SAT tests. The state does not release averages for those schools, which include West Side Career and Technology Center in most years.