Georgia’s average SAT scores for 2009 fall below the national average, while the state’s black and Hispanic students scored above their peer groups nationally, the state Department of Education reports.
"We certainly should be pleased that our achievement gap is smaller than the nation’s, but we should not be satisfied with 274- and 136-point gaps," state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox said in a news release. "As a state, we have made progress on many state and national tests, such as the ACT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But clearly we must maintain — and expand — our commitment to providing all students a world-class education."
Overall, Georgia, like the nation, performed slightly worse on the SAT compared to last year.
Georgia’s public, private and home-schooled students averaged a 1,460 on the SAT this year, down six points from last year. The nation’s SAT average for the 2008-09 school year is 1,509, down two points from the previous year, according to the state’s news release. A perfect score is 2,400.
Hall County students averaged a 1,463 on the SAT during the 2008-09 school year, up 27 points from last year. Gainesville students averaged a 1,428, down 30 points from last year, school officials reported.
Georgia’s steady drop in scores started in 2006, when the average score was 1,477 out of a possible 2,400. The following year, it dropped to 1,472, and then down to 1,466 last year.
The biggest decline for the state was in writing, where test takers scored 479, compared to 483 last year. In math, Georgia students scored 491, a two-point drop from 2008. The critical reading score this year was 490, compared to 491 last year.
But the state’s black and Hispanic students taking the SAT continued to outperform the national average score for those groups.
Hispanic students in Georgia scored 1,412, which is 66 points higher than the national average score for Hispanics. For black students, this year’s score was 1,274 — 10 points higher than the national average score for that group.
Still, those groups lagged behind their white peers and even lost ground from 2006. Hispanics scored 136 points below white peers, and blacks saw a 274-point gap.
Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said Gainesville High School’s priority is to provide students the opportunity to take the test and apply to college. She said more than 93 percent of Gainesville seniors last school year took the SAT and 94 percent took the test in 2007-08.
Dyer said the North Georgia Community Foundation helps impoverished students pay for the test. Most of the nontraditional, college-bound Gainesville students who were encouraged to take the SAT this past school year were minorities, she said.
While the SAT and ACT are the most appropriate college entrance exam for students headed for four-year colleges, Dyer said other students may be guided toward a test recommended for technical college applications.
"As a counseling initiative, they’re trying to steer the kids to taking the right test," she said.
"Our first priority is to get more kids to take it," she said of college entrance exams. "Some states and some high schools still restrict the number of students who take the SAT; I understand that’s done in some places. What Gainesville decided to do as a goal is to increase the opportunities for students and remove barriers to students taking the test."
Although Gainesville’s average score is down from last year, Dyer said she’s happy with the number of students taking the test, and the system aims for a 1,500 SAT average, which she describes as a "lofty goal."
Eloise Barron, Hall County assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, credits students tackling challenging course work as the reason for Hall County’s boost in SAT scores.
"I think the main thing is the quality of the courses taken and the rigor of instruction," she said.
Barron said nearly 55 percent of Hall County seniors took the SAT last year. She said in the previous year, more than 57 percent of Hall seniors took the SAT.
"Our approach is to encourage students to take the right course work and then, if you’ve taken the right course work, you take the SAT," Barron said.
The number of Georgia students taking the test remained relatively flat, at about 63,000 this year. That includes nearly 46,000 high school seniors, or about 71 percent of graduating students. Typically, states with larger pools of test takers fare worse in their scores.
Georgia remains one of 24 "high participation" states, where more than 40 percent of the students take the SAT, the state Department of Education reported. In Georgia, 71 percent of all students took the SAT, which is much higher than the national participation rate of 46 percent.
While overall SAT participation in Georgia went up slightly this year, participation in Georgia public schools dropped more than 8 percent. Meanwhile, the number of public school students taking the ACT increased more than 11 percent in 2009.
Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said the SAT scores mean state budget cuts have taken a toll on how much students are learning.
"We’ve got to put more money — even in these difficult times — into investing in education," said Hubbard, whose organization represents 40,000 educators across the state. "We can’t continue to give out tax credits and tax cuts and starve our children’s education. It’s showing up in these scores."
Scores dropped nationally, too.
The high school class of 2009 scored a composite of 1,509, compared to last year’s 1,511.
The College Board said it was the most diverse pool of test takers ever. Forty percent were minorities, and more than one-third reported their parents never attended college. More than a quarter reported English was not their first language at home.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.