2005-02-02 Despite Spending Increases, SAT scores remain flat

Remarks to the Fairfax County School Board Regarding the FY2006 School Budget

February 2, 2005
By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance

Members of the Board and Dr. Dale:

A year ago, the previous Superintendent proposed a FY2005 school-operating budget with a four percent or $67 million increase (from $1738M to $1805M). This year the Superintendent's budget document shows that the FY2005 budget increased by 15 percent, or $253 million (from $1630M to $1883M). My question is how did a $67 million increase become a $253 million increase?

At the Superintendent's budget press conference a month ago, I asked the Superintendent to account for the extra $186 million. He was only able to account for $60 million, which is the FCPS share of the $1.4 billion tax increase approved last year in Richmond. That leaves $126 million unaccounted for. In a period of soaring real estate taxes, I think that the school administration should be able to account for an unbudgeted $126 million spending increase.

The school system states that tax increases are justified to maintain the schools' "academic excellence." This assertion of excellence is based in large part on the County's average College Board SAT score, which is 79 points above the national average. However the school administration never publishes the fact that the County's average SAT score is at the 65th percentile. (Sixty-fifth percentile means that the average FCPS senior scored higher than 65 percent of the one million seniors who took the SAT.)

Again, I asked the Superintendent a month ago if he felt that 65th percentile was indicative of "academic excellence." His answer was an emphatic yes.

Unfortunately the College Board has never specified what SAT score corresponds to satisfactory, good, or excellent for a senior. However, test results from the National Center for Education Statistics suggest that 65th percentile corresponds to performing at grade level ("Proficient") and that the 95th percentile corresponds to "Advanced." Of its 24 high schools, FCPS has only one that scores above the 95th percentile. There are sixteen schools in which the average student scores below the 65th percentile. This suggests at that the average student at two-thirds of FCPS high schools score below the NCES standard for grade level.

FCPS high school SAT percentiles are not posted on the school system's website. However they are posted on the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance home page, www.fcta.org.

Moreover the FCPS average SAT percentile has hovered at the 65th percentile for at least twelve years, despite enormous annual increases in spending and the resulting surges in real estate taxes. If our taxes are buying academic excellence, we are buying it only for a few.

Thank you.

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