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Local SAT scores slightly drop in most schools
North Hall High School only area school that improves
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Standardized test scores have been a major criteria in the college admissions game for years, but some say their importance might be wavering.

"The truth is somewhere in the middle with this stuff," said Scott Briell, senior vice president for enrollment management and student services at Brenau University in Gainesville.

"We look to see that students have a basic proficiency at reading and math. It's definitely integral but it's not the end-all, be-all."

The average SAT scores in Georgia fell slightly this year and most Hall County and Gainesville City high schools followed that trend as well, according to scores released Wednesday by the Georgia Department of Education.

North Hall High School was the only school that showed improvement, with an average score of 1615 this year compared to 1558 in 2010.

It is common for scores to decrease when the number of students taking an exam increases because more students of different academic backgrounds are being tested, according to a news release from the Education Department.

"As the number of SAT takers in Georgia has increased 18 percent among all students and 19 percent among public school students since 2007, score declines like Georgia has experienced can be expected," the news release stated.

Gainesville High School's scores fell 43 points this year, but school officials say they are not concerned.

"We're pleased. We're always trying to do better, but we're pleased with all of these kids taking the SAT and that they're trying to go to a post-secondary school," said Kay Holleman, guidance counselor at Gainesville High School.

The school had nearly 40 more students taking the test this year.

Eight of the area high schools had more students taking the SAT. No data was reported for Wood's Mill High School either year.

Holleman said all Gainesville High students are encouraged to take either the SAT or ACT at least once, though it is recommended they take them three times.

Preparation for the SAT begins early in students' high school careers.

"We try to make sure all of our sophomores and some juniors take the PSAT so they're experienced with the type of test," Holleman said.

Gainesville High also offers SAT courses as part of credit recovery classes, SAT prep books in the library and one-on-one assistance finding practice tests online.

"We make sure they're in the right classes to take these tests," Holleman said. "They need at least Math I and Math II to take the SAT."

Georgia students who completed a core curriculum, which includes English, math, natural science, social science and history, tended to do better on the SAT than those who did not use that curriculum, according to a news release.

The 2011 statewide averages for core and non-core curricula were 1479 and 1355 respectively. All area schools scored higher than the state non-core curriculum and North Hall High scored higher than both.

Hall County also noted an increase in students taking the SAT in 2011.

"We're up 15, 20 percent in the number of students taking the test," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said.

He said schools are trying to find a balance between preparing kids to take the SAT and making them well-rounded students.

"We're not doing as much intensive, teaching the SAT as we were maybe two years ago," Schofield said. "The best way to do well on the SAT is to do a better job of teaching math and reading skills in kindergarten through 12th grade."

According to a news release, 31 percent of students taking the SAT want to earn a bachelor's degree and 52 percent want to continue on to earn an advanced degree.

The top 10 institutions receiving Georgia students' SAT scores included the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University, Auburn University and North Georgia College & State University.

"When evaluating a student's file, we look at their college prep curriculum, their high school GPA and the third part is evaluating their SAT or ACT scores," said Jennifer Chadwick, director of undergraduate admissions at North Georgia College & State University.

"High school curricula vary by school and SAT and ACT scores are really the only standardized methods of measuring a student's ability to succeed in college."

Chadwick said there was a certain point at which having a higher GPA score can help students.

"We do admit students who have a 3.9 or 4.0 GPA and maybe just don't test well," she said.

The reverse, however, doesn't always prove true.

Chadwick said a lower GPA might indicate a student is not ready for the rigor of college classes.

It costs $49 to take the SAT, but students can work with their counselors to get fee waivers. The waiver is also sent to the colleges, so some places will waive the students' application fee as well.

"Our application fee, it's $30. That's not that much but in this economy $30 can mean a lot when they begin the admissions process," Chadwick said.

For the past five years, Gainesville State College was part of a pilot program where SAT and ACT scores were not required as part of the admissions process, but many students sent them anyway.

This year Gainesville State chose to reinstitute the requirement.

"The SAT and ACT were designed as predictors of college success," said Mack Palmour, associate vice president of enrollment management and director of admission at the college. "There's still debate on which is better for college success, SAT or GPA. ... We decided to go back and do both."

What many schools are consistent in doing is not looking hard at the writing portion of the SAT.

"Part of the reason is it's still a relatively new test," Palmour said. "We're in discussions now to see whether we could use that in place of writing samples students have to submit on campus."

He said the only way Gainesville State might look at a writing score is if a student does not get in and appeals her admission decision.

"It depends on the school," Holleman said. "It doesn't mean they're counting it, but if it comes down between two students, it's something they could look at."

Though Lanier Technical College doesn't require students to send in SAT scores, it is used regardless.

"If they've taken it in the past five years they and use that to exempt placement tests," said Mike Marlowe, director of admissions for the college. "I think it's a good idea for students to take them. ... It gives them more of an opportunity to go to other schools later on."