COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Despite a three-point jump from last year, South Carolina's SAT scores still rank last in the nation, state Education Superintendent Barbara Nielsen said Thursday.
The average state score on the college entrance exam was 954, compared with 1,013 nationally. The national average also increased three points over the 1995 scores.
Nielsen, however, was quick to point out that South Carolina scores averaged 1,045 among students who had taken at least 20 of the rigorous academic courses the state Education Department recommends for college-bound students.
"The message is very simple and very powerful: If you want to do well on the SAT, you have to take the right courses," she said. "We aren't doing children any favors if we let them take the easy way out."
Nielsen said parents, teachers, counselors and administrators must convince children that such classes as algebra and geometry are a must and that advanced classes such as calculus are even better.
In North Carolina, where scores averaged 22 points higher than in South Carolina, algebra is required for all ninth-grade students.
Twenty-seven percent of South Carolina students who took the SAT had taken 20 or more academic classes. Nationally, that number was 41 percent.
"This should be a challenge to every principal, every teacher and every school," Nielsen said. "We have to teach a more rigorous curriculum that expects more."
In Clarendon District 1, a small rural area with one high school, SAT scores rose 85 points over last year.
District spokeswoman Cathy Skelley said Scott's Branch High School had only 57 seniors last year - 17 of whom took the Scholastic Assessment Test.
There is not enough interest to justify offering a calculus class, so the school brings in the high-level math course via satellite. The school also sponsors an SAT workshop and has a lab for students to practice the skills they need to know for the exam.
The small-school atmosphere also helps, Skelley said.
"We're trying to really work with students and counsel them," she said. "They get a lot of individualized attention."
Nielsen said intensive counseling at the ninth-grade level is key to preparing seniors for the SAT.
She also said administrators and teachers are working to recruit minority students, who historically have scored lower than their white peers in South Carolina, to enroll in advanced courses.
Black students' scores increased four points over last year, but they continue to score lower than whites. The average for South Carolina's black seniors was 831, compared with 1,008 for whites.
"Addressing this disparity must be a continuing priority for schools and districts," Nielsen said.
The SAT was rescored this year.
The new system was devised to raise the average score back to 500. Last year the averages were 428 for verbal and 482 for math; this year the verbal average was 505 and the math average was 508.
The new score-centering technique bases the scale on tests from 1990 graduates, who represented a more diverse school population than 1941, when the last scoring system was devised.
Also Thursday, Nielsen said the state's scores on the ACT, or American College Test, remained the same as last year at 19.1.
The vast majority of South Carolina seniors take the SAT.