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Scores rising as more students turn to the ACT

POSTED: October 8, 2012 8:14 p.m.

More of Effingham County’s high school seniors took the ACT this year than last year, the county’s SAT scores improved slightly on two of the test’s three sections, and a higher number of students took Advanced Placement tests, according to a report presented Wednesday to the Effingham County Board of Education.


Judith Shuman, Effingham County Schools’ student and professional learning coordinator for grades 6-12, told the board that an increasing number of the county’s students are finding the ACT a better fit than the SAT as their college admissions test.


The number of students taking the ACT jumped from 147 in 2011 to 261 this year. Their average score was 20.4, a slight increase from 20.2 last year but short of the district’s high of 21.1 in 2010.


“Sometimes with an increase in participation you see a decrease in scores,” Shuman said. “Although we did see a substantial increase in the number of students taking the ACT, we also saw an increase in the composite score over last year. That’s always a good thing.”


Shuman attributed that to the work school counselors are doing to help college-bound students determine which test is the most viable option for them. The ACT is a curriculum-based test that measures the knowledge a student has acquired, whereas the SAT is a reasoning test.


The school district also has re-implemented an ACT and SAT preparation class into its two high schools. Students are being “strongly encouraged” to take the course, Shuman said, especially since the state of Georgia eliminated the free SAT practice program it used to offer online.


“They still have the option of taking both (the SAT and ACT) if they choose to,” Shuman said, “but many of our students are discovering that they actually show up better on the ACT. Particularly if you’re a strong reader, it tends to be a test to show your talents or knowledge a little better.”


The number of Effingham County seniors taking the SAT remained steady – 448 in 2011 and 449 in 2012. The average score in the district this year, 1,418, was exactly the same as the year before.


Effingham County High and South Effingham High both had a slight decline in their SAT math scores, lowering the district average from 486 last year to 479 this year. However, the district improved from 477 to 482 in critical reading and from 455 to 457 in writing.


Another casualty of state budget cuts was the provision that any student could take one Advanced Placement exam free of charge. Now a student in Effingham County must pay $81 to take any AP test.


Students enrolled in AP classes can opt to take an AP test at the conclusion of the course. Earning a score of at least 3 out of a possible 5 will earn the student college credit at most post-secondary institutions.


Despite the state no longer sponsoring the tests, the number of AP exams administered in the county rose from 339 in 2011 to 442 this year.


“I think it is pretty significant, considering the financial strain many of our families are on, that those students chose to pursue and, I believe, felt confident in their ability to earn a 3 or above on those exams,” Shuman said. “When the state is not paying for any of the exams anymore, that makes those choices even more critical for those students.”


Along with more Advanced Placement tests being given, Effingham County also increased its number of students enrolled in AP courses – from 654 a year ago to 753. Although the percentage of students scoring 3 or above on AP tests declined from 49.3 to 42.3, the total number of students scoring at that level increased from 167 to 186.


Shuman referenced several courses that had a high percentage of students score at least a 3 on the Advanced Placement test, including South Effingham’s AP macroeconomics (74 percent), European history (66) and English (58) courses, and Effingham County’s calculus (75 percent) and studio art (66) courses.


“Those programs are to be especially commended for their efforts in making sure those students have the potential to earn college credit through that 3 or above on the course,” she said.


For more information on the school district’s efforts to prepare students for college entrance exams, and the differences between the SAT and ACT, go to www.effinghamschools.com and click on “Sophomore Pathways to College Admission.”

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