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No matter the test, college exam scores are on the rise
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Fewer high school students in Effingham County took the SAT in 2013 than in 2012, but school officials don’t view that as a negative.

In fact, they see it as a positive result of steps the school system has taken to help students decide whether the SAT or ACT is the better college-readiness test for them.

“The students are getting better information about which test they should pursue, and we believe that’s going to increase the scores in terms of both tests,” Judith Shuman, the school system’s student and professional learning coordinator, told the Effingham County Board of Education last week.

For years, the state has paid for high school sophomores to take the SAT practice test, the PSAT. The Effingham County School System took the additional step this past year of providing general budget funds for its 10th-graders to take the ACT’s preliminary test, the PLAN, as well.

With results from both tests available, students met with their counselors to determine whether the SAT or ACT might be the better one to take. Also, as juniors, students have the option to enroll in a college-readiness course.

As a result, Shuman said, “students are choosing the correct test originally. So where we see a decline in participation in the SAT, we think it’s simply because those students are taking the ACT, but not taking both tests as they might’ve done in the past.”

A total of 405 graduating seniors in the class of 2013 took the SAT — 226 at South Effingham High and 179 at Effingham County High. That was down from 449 the previous year.

While participation decreased, the county’s average SAT score increased. Effingham’s average score improved by five points in math, four points in writing and three points in critical reading for a total 12-point increase from 1,418 to 1,430.

“We’re seeing movement in the right direction for the SAT and, of course, hope that continues,” Shuman said.

Meanwhile, the number of Effingham County students taking the ACT has increased to 261 in 2013 from 147 just two years earlier. The county’s average SAT score of 20.9 was a slight increase from 20.4 in 2012.

A new step this year to encourage participation in the ACT will be to offer it on a school day rather than a Saturday. Effingham’s two high schools will administer the ACT on March 18, a Tuesday.

“Getting a high school student up on a Saturday morning for any endeavor is never an easy thing,” Shuman said.

Board of education Vice Chairman Troy Alford acknowledged that he “played devil’s advocate” about testing after he was elected in 2004 to the school board. However, he said the school system has “come a tremendously long way in getting our kids prepped, whether it be from the middle school to the high school or high school into college,” in recent years.

“I just remember kids stressing out about which test to take to get to their next education level,” Alford said. “It’s heartbreaking to see so many students shutting down because they don’t know what test to take.”

AP participation up

Shuman’s report to the school board also included an update on Advanced Placement courses, which can earn students college credit.

Though some college-bound students might worry their grade-point averages could suffer from taking an AP class, Shuman said that should not to be a reason to shy away from the rigorous coursework.

“What we’re finding is that many admissions officers will tell those students and parents they would prefer to see a student with a 90 in an AP course than a student with a 98 in a non-AP course, because of the indication that they’re ready for that challenge.”

Effingham County students took 566 AP exams in 2013, up from 442 the previous year. A total of 864 students were enrolled in 14 different AP course subjects.

High school students in Georgia used to be able to take one AP test at no cost, but the state eliminated that funding in 2011. Each AP exam costs $89.

“Sometimes students and parents have to make some difficult decisions about how many they might take,” Shuman said.

The Effingham County School System challenged its two high schools to raise money to help defray the cost to students. The school system then matched the amount raised.

Of the 566 AP tests given in the county last year, Shuman said, 46 percent of students scored high enough to exempt courses at most post-secondary schools.

“It adds up to a lot of money when you’re paying tuition,” she said.