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Beaufort County public school students' performance on the SAT college-entrance exam dropped this year, according to data released Tuesday by the S.C. Department of Education.
The school district's average score -- 1,397 on a 2,400-point scale -- trails the state average of 1,436 and the national average of 1,500 points. It is down 17 points from the 2010 average.
Scores were down at Beaufort, Battery Creek, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island high schools. The new Whale Branch Early College High School had no graduating seniors in 2011, so no scores were reported.
Scores dropped the most in the math section. The districtwide average fell 10 points from 482 to 472, out of a possible 800.
State scores, announced last week, were down seven points from 2010. The national average fell six points.
Battery Creek High principal Edmond Burnes said the drop at his school was expected, since standardized test scores for the 2011 graduating class consistently lagged other classes.
"We are by no means satisfied," Burnes said. "Unfortunately, we projected that."
Principals: Preparation Matters
Last year, the district emphasized an online SAT training program implemented in 2009, Burnes said. Students could access the program at home or school. At Battery Creek, some class time was devoted to it. Battery Creek students could also take an elective SAT preparation course.
Burnes said the school hopes to raise the score 10 points next year, in part by sharing best practices among teachers.
At Beaufort High, a 25-point drop might be explained by lower participation in test-preparation electives and workshops, according to principal Dan Durbin. When the school saw gains in 2010, more students participated in the free sessions, Durbin said.
An attempt Tuesday to reach Bluffton High School principal Mark Dievendorf for comment was unsuccessful.
Principal Amanda O'Nan said test-prep sessions account for success at Hilton Head High, which had the highest average in the district at 1,473. It was the only school to top the state average.
O'Nan said a twice-yearly, school-hosted weekend SAT course, run by test-preparation company Power Score, usually has about 50 students per session. The school offers scholarships for the courses, which cost about $350.
Hilton Head High teachers host weekly SAT tutoring sessions at Barnes & Noble, and the school sells used SAT study guides at a discount.
More test-takers mean lower scores
Nonetheless, Hilton Head High's average was down 34 points from 2010. O'Nan said that could be because it has the largest percentage of graduating seniors in the district taking the test -- 92 percent of 225 students.
"We encourage every kid to keep that door open to college and take the SAT," O'Nan said.
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale attributed the district's drop to an increase in the number of students taking the test. About 67 percent of the graduating class, or 757 students, took the test in 2011. That's up from 60 percent, or 737 students, in 2010.
The number of test takers in 2010 was adjusted by the College Board, which administers the test, to include results of May and June SATs. The board began including those results this year after noticing more students took the SAT for the first time in those months. The previous cutoff was March.
Adding those scores worsened state averages, echoing a nationwide trend.
South Carolina colleges and universities accept either ACT or SAT scores for admission, but the SAT is the state's most popular entrance exam.
Beaufort County students' scores on the ACT, announced in August, dipped this year, ending a three-year streak of gains.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.