Originally created 08/31/02

Obsessing on SAT



Georgia's tumble into last place in the nation in average SAT scores is a crushing blow symbolically, but in terms of substance it's not a landmark development. It is significant, though, that a 7-year streak of improving scores on the college-readiness test came to an end.

The same can be said of South Carolina in reverse; it's a great relief from a public relations standpoint not to be No. 50 anymore, but it still only beat Georgia by one point - 981 to 980. However, the Palmetto State did continue its year-to-year improvement, with its 2002 graduating class boosting the state's average SAT score seven points.

Compared to the national average of 1,020, it's clear neither state has much to brag about. But on a regional basis there is quite a lot to feel good about. Aiken County public schools, for instance, set a new scoring record with its grads equaling the national average. Edgefield County's 17-point increase to 998 set a record.

On this side of the river, Richmond County saw a dramatic increase in SAT scores over last year, from 950 to 975. It marked the seventh straight year of improving scores; even so, the county still hasn't reached the state average of 980. Columbia County's 1025 score was down five points, but it's still higher than the state or national average.

SAT scores - along with grade point averages - are used by many colleges and universities as a benchmark for admissions. Yet the College Board which commissions the SAT test rightly warns it's misleading to compare states' scores as if it's a competition.

One reason: Higher-scoring states only let their best students take the SAT; lower scoring states, like Georgia and South Carolina, have no such restrictions.

South Carolina, however, did make changes that could account for it climbing out of the SAT cellar. Students there are given the option of taking either the SAT or the ACT test - depending on which they think they'll do best on. SAT focuses on math and verbal skills while ACT is a test of curriculum-based achievement in English, math, social sciences and natural sciences.

Moreover, since 1998, South Carolina has paid $1.7 million for sophomores to take practice exams for both the SAT or the ACT. The state also sponsors a statewide high school SAT competition, cash awards for high-performing schools and professional development training for schools trying to improve their SAT scores.

Palmetto State educators have to be careful that obsessing on SAT and ACT tests doesn't come at the expense of a more complete, well-rounded education.