Georgia’s SAT scores up but still below national average

Georgia’s graduating seniors scored a 977 out of a possible 1600 on the critical reading and math portions of the SAT, a 5-point jump from 2011, according to results released Monday.

Fulton County Schools posted an exceptionally strong performance on the SAT, a three-section aptitude test with a maximum score of 2400. (A writing section of the SAT is administered to students, but it is rarely considered by colleges and universities.)

Seven of the 20 schools with the highest average scores on the SAT are in Fulton. The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology had the highest three-section score in the state, 1941 out of a possible 2400.

Even with the uptick in statewide scores, Georgia’s critical reading and math score still lagged behind the national score of 1010. And among the dozen states where at least 70 percent of graduating seniors took the SAT, only Delaware (918), Maine (942) and South Carolina (969) had lower scores than Georgia. The SAT does not offer or encourage state-by-state score comparisons because the number of test-takers varies significantly from state to state.

Georgia, however, has seen its score rise even as the percentage of graduating seniors taking the test has risen. Typically, more test-takers means a lower overall average.

More than eight of 10 graduating seniors took the SAT in Georgia this year, underscoring the test’s enduring importance despite a move by some colleges and universities to emphasize other factors in making admissions decisions.

Indeed, with college costs rising — and with many scholarships still pegged to SAT scores — performing well on the test is as important as it’s ever been.

“Our industry has exploded in terms of people seeking our services,” said Olu Sanya, co-founder and executive director of Success Prep, which provides tutoring for the SAT and the ACT, another exam colleges use in weighing applicants.

Some colleges and universities in Georgia are lessening their reliance on the SAT.

“We are increasingly placing emphasis in our admissions decisions on factors that our data, and national data, show actually predict student success, such as the overall high school record of the applicant,” said Timothy Renick, Georgia State University’s associate provost for academic programs and its chief enrollment officer.

Agnes Scott College in Decatur is “SAT optional,” meaning applicants to the college could be admitted without taking the SAT.

“Performance in high school is a better predictor of success than the tests are,” said Christine Couzzens, who has taught English at Agnes Scott for 26 years. “For us, there were moral considerations, too. We think it’s important to provide options for people who don’t have the money for prep courses.”

Test prep can be expensive. Success Prep charges $389 for a 12-session SAT prep course. The company offers individually tailored preparation sessions that are more expensive.

Alex Colonna, a senior at Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, saw his SAT score jump nearly 300 points on his second try, which followed a summer of studying and tutoring.

He also credits his high school principal, Jim Markham.

“He told me if I wanted to get into The Citadel to get my SAT score above 1800,” Colonna said. “He really inspired me to push myself, and that’s why I studied so hard this summer.”

Lisa Kirkpatrick, the mother of a freshman and senior at St. Francis High School in Alpharetta, estimates that her family spent somewhere between $2,800 and $3,000 to help them prepare for the SAT and the PSAT.

“You do have to do what makes your child more competitive,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick’s daughter, Megan, is a National Honor Society member, a BETA club member and a member of two varsity sports teams. But she hasn’t always been the strongest test-taker, and Kirkpatrick said she wanted to give her daughter the strongest chance of getting into the schools she is interested in attending.

Megan, 17, said the test prep helped give her confidence. She said she believes the test prep has given her a better chance to gain admission to the schools on her wish list, which includes Elon College in North Carolina, Furman University in South Carolina and Berry College in Rome.

Kirkpatrick placed her son, 14-year old Jack, in PSAT prep classes.

“The reason we started with Jack so early is we feel we waited too late with Megan,” Kirkpatrick said. “I wanted him to get accustomed to taking the test. I wanted him to understand how to take the test.”

While some schools may be moving away from an all-out embrace of the SAT, most colleges and universities in Georgia not only require an applicant to have taken the SAT or the ACT, they also want those applicants to have high scores.

Freshmen at the University of Georgia had an average critical reading and math score of 1273. At Georgia Tech, the critical reading and math score was 1395.

“Georgia doesn’t have enough seats to take everyone,” Sanya said. “What’s the way to separate who gets in? These scores. This is the way it is.”

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Staff writers Nancy Badertscher and Laura Diamond, and database specialist Kelly Guckian contributed to this article.