Georgia students’ SAT scores tick up, still lag U.S. average

Georgia students are performing better on high-stakes college entrance exams, a sign that they’re more prepared for the academic demands after high school.

Georgia’s overall combined mean score increased five points, to 1450. It still lags the national score, which was 1490 in 2015, and ranks 44th among U.S. states, according to data released Thursday by the College Board, which administers the SAT. The highest possible score is 2400.

State education leaders are encouraged by the increase, even though slightly fewer high school students are taking that exam. The participation rate slipped slightly from 77 percent the year before to 76.9 percent of students from the class of 2015.

Georgia typically has one of the highest participation rates in the country and usually ranks near the bottom on SAT scores, though the College Board discourages comparisons because of the varying participation rates. Generally more students taking the test could lower the overall mean score because of more individual lower scores.

“These score increases … signal that more students may be prepared for college-level work,” said state school Superintendent Richard Woods in a released statement.

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The SAT report follows the release last week of ACT college-entrance exam results, which also showed Georgia students performing better. Georgia’s average composite score rose 0.2 points to 21.0, believed to be the first time since at least 2006 that Georgia has equaled the national composite score.

Georgia posted the gains despite the increasing number of students taking the ACT. Historically, fewer Georgia students take the ACT than the SAT, but that gap is closing. A total of 54,653 students took the ACT test in 2015, up from 42,929 in 2011.

The national ACT score is the same this year as it was in 2011, but participation has followed a trend similar to the one in Georgia, rising from 49 percent to 59 percent.

Eric Cochling, executive vice president of the Georgia Center for Opportunity, a group that advocates for school choice, said the improvement in college entrance exam scores is encouraging but the state still must improve its graduation rate, decrease the number of college students having to take remedial courses and get more students to graduate from college on time.

Georgia’s graduation rate has risen 5.1 percentage points between 2011 and 2014 and is now 72.5 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Education. But it ranks among the lowest compared to other states. The national rate has reached 81 percent, based on 2013 federal data, the most recent available.

“Looking beyond the SAT and what we are ultimately concerned about, which is student achievement and actually going to college and doing well and getting work – when we look at those issues, our state hasn’t done well over the years,” said Cochling. “We hope what’s happening with the SAT (and ACT) is just an initial sign that other things that will actually matter more in the long run for students are happening.”

Nationally, the overall combined mean score for the SAT was down, from 1497 in 2013-14 to 1490 this past school year. Some 1.7 million students from the class of 2015 took the SAT, compared to 1.67 million students in 2014.

Year after year, the Gwinnett School of Mathematics Science and Technology tops the state list of schools with a lot of test takers, and continued to do so with the class of 2015 with a score of 1848.

Generally, the high schools with the best SAT scores are in well-to-do pockets of metro Atlanta. Seventeen of the 20 schools with the highest average composite SAT score are in this region. At eleven of those 20, students’ median annual household incomes are greater than $100,000, more than twice the statewide total.

Five Fulton County high schools – all in the northern end of the county — were among the top 10 in average SAT scores. That excludes high schools with less than 100 test takers.

Of metro Atlanta’s five largest school districts, Fulton had the highest mean SAT score at 1558. Atlanta’s school district was the lowest, at 1320.

Becky Chambers, program manager for college readiness at Georgia Department of Education, said she expects SAT scores to get closer to the national rate as more students take the new Georgia Milestones state standardized tests — which are more rigorous and in line with high-stakes national tests like the SAT.

“We certainly want to be closer to that national average,” she said. “We will see that students who are about grade five now, who are taking the Georgia Milestones … as they move up and get into high school, I think they’re going to be more accustomed to this level of rigor, synthesis and analysis on this high-stakes testing.”

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