CAMDEN A statistic released by the Camden School District - that three out of about 882 high school seniors scored "college ready" on the SAT in 2012 - sparked criticism and questions from education advocates last week.
The number, based on state performance reports from the 2011-12 school year, uses the College Board's college-readiness parameter score of 1550 out of 2400 on math, reading and writing.
The reports have been accessible since May, but the statistic about the three students was largely brought to public attention by superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard at Tuesday's school board advisory meeting.
While only the three students - one at Camden High School and two at Brimm Medical Arts High School - scored 1550 or higher, only 42 percent of Camden High School seniors took the test. Nationally, 43 percent of students met the benchmark.
"The College Board's definition of college-ready is a relatively new initiative," said Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. "It's really a self-promotional tool to get people to pay more attention to SAT scores at a time when their product has been overtaken in the marketplace by the ACT and as colleges, by large numbers, are dropping testing completely."
The College Board said its 1550 score is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first-year average of B-minus or higher, and is based on a sample of student performance at four-year colleges.
"If a student does not meet the SAT benchmark score of 1550, it does not mean he or she can't or won't be successful in college," the College Board said in a news release. "It means that students who do not achieve a score of 1550 on the SAT have less than a 65 percent probability of achieving a first-year GPA of B-minus or higher."
Nationally, 46 percent of students who did not meet the SAT benchmark enrolled in a four-year college, compared with 78 percent of students who scored 1550 or higher.
Two universities with campuses in Camden - Rowan and Rutgers-Camden - have median SAT scores near or below the benchmark. At Rutgers-Camden, the middle 50 percent of students at the College of Arts and Sciences come in with scores between 1530 and 1840, according to the website. The business school's middle 50 percent is 1480 to 1760.
Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona said admissions officers do not use the SAT benchmark when considering applicants.
Rowan looks primarily at the reading and math sections, not writing, Cardona said, and, like most colleges, Rowan weighs the districts the student comes from and their GPA within those districts.
Low SAT performance in Camden is not reserved for public schools. At LEAP Academy Charter, where 98 percent of students took the SAT, no students met the benchmark. At Camden Academy Charter High School, only 6 percent of SAT-takers in a senior class of 97 met the benchmark.
Students in lower economic areas historically have underperformed on the SAT.
Gloria Bonilla Santiago, founder of LEAP, which says it has a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate, called the test "a class-biased instrument particularly unreliable for minority students from low-income backgrounds."
"Students who can afford expensive SAT pre-courses and even private SAT tutoring can raise their scores substantially," Santiago said.
Still, it's a benchmark worth factoring into the equation, Rouhanifard said Tuesday: "It's one part of a broader story, but we can do better than three kids in Camden."