The SAT is a college entrance exam that is developed, administered and scored by the College Board. The exam is designed to test the subject matter learned by students in high school and the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in college. The test has three sections -- critical reading, mathematics and writing -- each worth 800 points, for a highest possible score of 2400.
The Georgia Department of Education released Monday SAT score reports, which showed that 2010's high school seniors across the state averaged a score of 1453. The average was down 7 points from the previous senior class. Public school students' average was 1442, down 8 from the previous year.
Topping both averages were Woodland High School, where its 146 seniors who took the exam averaged a 1483, and Cass High, where 85 students comprised the school's 1471 average.
Woodland was the only high school in the county to post a gain over its previous year's average, increasing 46 points over the previous year's 1437. Cass' drop of 36 points followed a year where seniors' scores averaged 1507, which represented a 63-point increase in average SAT scores over the two years prior -- the improvement was the highest of any school in the state that year.
Adairsville High's 88 test-takers scored an average of 1404, down 50 points from the previous year. The high school and the district's two others altogether posted an average of 1458, besting both state averages.
But district officials say their score drops and the averages' place under other benchmarks show the need for improvement on exam preparations.
"If there's a silver lining, this is the first time since I've been here that we've surpassed the state average as a system," said John Barge, director of Secondary Curriculum for Bartow County Schools. "[But] it's not a place where you want to stay, because it still falls below the national average."
Nationwide, the average score among all public, private and homeschooled students was 1509, while the country's public schools notched an average of 1497.
"SAT scores are something that I've worked hard to focus on here," Bartow Superintendent John Harper said following Monday's county school board meeting. "They're not what they should be for us, so we're working hard to revamp our curriculum to help those children do better with SAT scores.
"We want every child who wants to take the SAT to take the SAT and do well. I want children who graduate from the Bartow County School System to have the ability to attend any school or university in this county. Oftentimes, that's predicated on your SAT score, and I don't want any limitations there for a child who graduates from any high school," Harper added.
Over in the city school system, Cartersville High's 135 test-takers posted an average of 1448, down 18 from the previous year. Cartersville Schools Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said the declines in two of the three exam areas -- students' scores went up 2 points in math -- were not statistically significant given the number of students who took the test, as the scores of a small number of students can sway the average.
"We would be saying the same thing if each of these areas had increased by those values," Clouse said via a news release Tuesday. "However, any decline is certainly not what you want to see in any testing measure."
Clouse also cautioned comparisons of scores to previous class years, schools and averages, since different numbers of students take the tests from year to year, while some schools may steer only higher-performing students to the SAT.
Officials in both districts say they do not screen students to determine who should and should not take the exam.
"You do have to take these types of tests for what they are and for what their intended value is," Clouse said. "To use this data to compare schools, to compare states, or to compare performance of a group of students from one year to another is not appropriate use of this data, and that is what the designers of the test tell you."
Leaders of both systems say they plan to continue efforts to help students post higher marks. In Bartow, in addition to ratcheting up the curriculum, Barge said discussions will be held with school leaders to determine areas of improvement.
"We will be working with the staffs of those two schools [Adairsville and Cass] to identify what may have been the reasons for the drops," Barge said. "We've got some job-imbedded professional development that we're going to do with those folks and see if we can't drill down and figure out what it is exactly that caused the significant drops in those two schools.
"The data is so fresh and so new, the schools have not had a chance to dissect those, and we have not had a chance to sit down with them and ask what's going on, but that certainly is in our future to go and find out 'Is there's something specifically that you folks at Woodland did to get these gains?'" Barge added. "And if so, how can we replicate that at our other two schools?"
Harper said that while his district does not have SAT courses in the high schools, students are allowed to go online on school computers on their own time to utilize SAT preparation materials.
In an interview Thursday, Clouse said that while Cartersville High has a SAT prep class, not all students are signing up to take part in the semester-long offering, half of which focuses math with the verbal subjects comprising the other half.
"A lot of students are not electing to choose to go in those. Our enrollment has been kind of down, and it typically has been some of our better students taking the classes, so you don't get as big an impact with how that might influence SAT scores," he said.
In addition to the prep course offering, the high school in recent years also has added several Advanced Placement classes to it offerings.
School leaders in the high school as well as Cartersville Middle are promoting their respective sites' advanced courses in the hopes of better preparing pupils for the SAT and college. Clouse said that almost all middle-school teachers have a gifted endorsement on their certificate, so they know strategies that would be used in an honors class, whether they teach such classes or not. Those strategies, he added, are a way the district can increase the rigor for all students.
"You can't force [students to take advanced classes], but we certainly are trying to encourage them through the counselors' office and teachers, for students and parents to select those classes," Clouse said. "I understand that some are reluctant because of what's hanging over their head with the HOPE scholarship. But when you look and see that 50 percent of the state's freshmen are losing HOPE at the end of their first year, then they're not as prepared.
"So we think when you weigh those, you're better off taking the more rigorous classes."