WILKES-BARRE — Tom Dombroski stood at the podium with several sheets of hand-written notes and rebuked the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board for low SAT scores, noting all three district high schools score poorly when compared to other schools both locally and statewide.
Standardized test results have become common fodder for district critics, with a core theme Dombroski repeated: “How,” he asked at last Thursday’s monthly board meeting, “will the new high school help?”
A review of state data for SAT scores supports Dombroski’s overall claim that all three Wilkes-Barre Area high schools rank low locally and statewide. In 2017-18, Meyers and GAR Memorial hhad the lowest SAT averages in Luzerne County — 952 and 948 respectively, while Coughlin had the ninth lowest at 1031.
They were not the lowest statewide, but still down on the chart. Of 705 high schools where data was reported, Meyers and GAR ranked 567 and 571 respectively in 2017, while Coughlin ranked 438.
But Superintendent Brian Costello repeated his defense.While he insists — as superintendents before him have — that it is not an excuse, studies show that family income impacts standardized test results. In that regard, the local numbers show a clear correlation — particularly for Meyers and GAR.
The two schools have the worst SAT results in Luzerne County. They also have the highest percentage of students from economically disadvantaged families —79.4 percent and 88.3 percent, respectively.
The correlation between family income and SAT scores is not so perfect in the rest of Luzerne County’s public high schools, but it is still clearly present. The three schools with the highest SAT results and lowest percentage of low-income students in the county are the same. For SAT results, the top three are Dallas, Lake-Lehman and Crestwood. The three schools ranked from lowest percentage of low-income families are Crestwood, Dallas and Lake-Lehman.
The correlation is exact for the next three slots: Pittston ranks fourth in both SAT scores and percent of low income students, Northwest Area ranked fifth and Wyoming Area sixth. In fact, arguably, only Coughlin shows any really success beating the statistical odds. In 2017, it had the 10th-highest percentage of low-income enrollment locally, yet posted the seventh-highest SAT scores.
Costello touted several programs designed to boost scores, including Saturday and after school programs to help economically disadvantaged students. Regarding how merging all three high schools into a new building can help, he argued it will be easier to offer such programs to all students more often once resources and teachers are no longer split among different schools.
“We want to be at the top,” he said. “We want to be the best at everything.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish