For the fourth year in a row, the SAT scores of S.C. students declined last spring.
The average composite score on the college-entrance exam for all South Carolina seniors graduating last spring was 1,431, down 5 points from the previous year, according to data released Monday by the State Department of Education.
The drop reflects a national trend. The national average dropped by 2 points to a score of 1,498.
The average critical reading score among the S.C. students was 481, a 1-point decrease. In math, the seniors averaged 488, a 1-point drop. In writing, they averaged 462, also a 1-point drop. That compares with the national averages of 496, 514, and 488, respectively.
A perfect score on each part of the test is 800, or a total of 2,400 for all three parts.
High school students nationwide take the SAT or the ACT to win admission to a college or university. Each school sets its own score that it requires for admission.
The College Board, which administers the test, says students scoring at least 1,550 are more likely to attend a four-year college and earn at least a B-minus grade-point average in their first year of college.
Particularly troubling at both the state and national level is the sliding reading score. The national average reading score was down a point from the previous year and down 34 points since 1972.
Our nations future depends on the strength of our education system, College Board president Gaston Caperton said in a statement. This report should serve as a call to action to expand access to rigor for more students.
S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais also expressed concern with the reading scores.
... (T)he SAT is not a measure of school effectiveness, Zais said in a statement. However, within the student population taking the SAT is another data point confirming a troubling trend: there is a wide reading gap between South Carolina and the nation.
Addressing the reading gap in elementary school must be our top priority because reading is fundamental to everything else in a students education, Zais said. If students cannot read, they will not succeed in school.
S.C. students did better in their scores on Advanced Placement courses, also announced Monday. Those classes allow the states top high school students to earn college credit holding down their college costs while still in high school.
Advanced Placement exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5; a score of 5 is the highest level of performance. Students can earn college credit at most colleges with scores of 3, 4, or 5.
More S.C. students than ever before took the college-credit-granting exams. The performance of those students also improved, on average.
Nearly 22,000 AP tests received scores high enough to earn college credit. That is up by more than 10 percent from the previous year. The number of tests taken increased by 14 percent, more than double the national increase of 6 percent.
(Many students take more than one AP test so the number of tests does not equal the number of students taking the tests.)
The passing rate declined slightly 58 percent of students taking AP classes passed at least one test, down from 59 percent the previous year.
Since 1984, South Carolina has paid for AP instructional materials and test fees to encourage more students to take the test. The state also has offered specialized training for teachers. Every student enrolled in an AP course is required to take the test.
While AP scores are not an accurate indicator of school performance, the success of these individual students is a noteworthy accomplishment, Zais said. The students, their parents and their teachers deserve all the credit for these gains.
The five most-taken AP exams in 2011-12 were U.S. history, English language and composition, English literature and composition, Calculus AB, and human geography.
Reach Smith at (803) 414-1340.