Did you know that if Columbia County counted only the top 37 percent of its SAT test-takers, roughly the national average, that Harlem High School would rank just barely behind Lakeside High's scores? And all the county's schools would rank in the state's top 10?
Instead, Columbia County tests more than three quarters of its seniors, from the college-bound to those wishfully thinking about it. That wide-open access drags down the county's SAT average.
Even so, our students again did a bang-up job this year, setting a new county average of 1032. That's nine points higher than last year " higher than the state and national averages that include school systems with far fewer test-takers.
The Richmond County scores are in that latter group. Our neighboring system this year again ballyhooed its rising scores, while sidestepping the issue of how much of that increase is once again due not to improved achievement but from the school system's effort to prevent ill-prepared students' scores from counting against its total.
Of course, even talking about these numbers runs counter to advice from the College Board, which discourages using SAT scores to rank one system against another. There are just too many demographic variables for true apples-to-apples comparisons, the Board says.
But people keep score; it's inevitable. And it's impossible not to notice that while hand-picked students at Richmond County's semi-public Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School were hitting the state's highest marks, most of the rest of Augusta's schools still flounder far below the state and national average.
Meanwhile, the combined scores of all of Columbia County's schools except Harlem beat the state average; Lakeside High students also far exceeded the national average.
Columbia County's schools haven't resorted to the neighbors' cherry-picking strategy of inflating its reported scores. That makes Harlem's 46-point jump that much more remarkable, while also taking some of the sting out of Evans High's 18-point drop.
ll this goes out the window next year: the College Board has changed the scoring system for the SAT and added an essay portion. This might be a good time for Columbia County to play along with the scoring game by encouraging only the best-prepared students to use the county's testing code.
It might not do much to improve overall achievement. But it sure would make a difference when those inevitable comparisons are made next year.
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