COLUMBIA - Many Aiken County seniors who took the ACT college entrance exam out-tested their state peers and came close to surpassing national scores.
Results released Thursday show that four of the county's seven high schools exceeded the state average. They are Aiken, South Aiken, Midland Valley and North Augusta.
South Carolina high school students slightly improved their overall performance on the ACT, formerly called the American College Test. State results were released late Wednesday.
This year, the average score statewide was 19.3 out of a possible 36 points. That's 0.02 of a percent better than last year's marks. Although minimal, the increase was the state's third straight.
"I'm pleased to see our ACT scores improve," state Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said late Wednesday, when the results were released. "We have more work to do, but we're moving in the right direction."
The ACT is a test whose questions - all multiple choice - are geared toward textbook and classroom instruction. Even though the test has been given nationally since 1959, it remains less popular than the SAT among college-bound students - 23,000 state SAT exams were graded in 1999, compared to 9,051 ACT exams this year.
In Aiken County, only 177 out of slightly more than 13,000 seniors took the test this year. At Wagener-Salley, only one student took the ACT, scoring 12.0 and skewing the local average. The lowest average score at any other school in the county was 18.1, at Ridge Spring-Monetta, suggesting that most students who took the test did well.
Despite the low number of students taking the test in some schools, the ACT has gained popularity in recent years and is accepted by all South Carolina colleges and universities. This year, a third more students took the exam than did last year. Also this year, test-takers who score a 22 or higher can earn $3,000 in LIFE scholarships if they graduate with a B average.
Educators aren't sure why the test is gaining ground on the SAT. But Eddie Pawlawski, director of ACT's Atlanta office, says it's because guidance counselors and teachers in the Palmetto State have talked up the test in recent years. South Carolina officials agree, but some said it's because the test might be better suited than the SAT to an individual's learning.
The SAT is an implied learning test.
Mr. Pawlawski called South Carolina's latest score increase "truly remarkable, particularly in this short period of time."
Results also show that seniors who took the recommended courses to do well on the ACT scored on average a 20 - 2.9 points higher than the 17.1 average score of those who didn't take the core courses.
"Proper preparation pays off," Mrs. Tenenbaum said. "Students who have taken the more challenging courses have a solid foundation, but students who haven't might be seeing the material for the first time.
"We have to make sure that all of our students are prepared for the rigorous content," she said.
ACT officials recommend students take four years of English; at least three years of math, including Algebra I and II and geometry; and at least three years of social studies.
Students who took the pretest, or the PLAN, also showed improvements. Since 1998, the number of sophomores who have taken the test has climbed by 42,000 students. That might be because the Legislature decided to provide state funding for all public school 10th-graders to take either PLAN or PSAT as part of a comprehensive effort to raise those scores.
This year's average score on the PLAN was 16.7 out of a possible 32, which is slightly higher than the national score of 16.6.
SAT results will be released later this month.
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.