More students in Middle Georgia have been taking the ACT as part of the college admissions process in recent years, according to local and state education leaders, consistent with a nationwide trend.
The ACT, along with the SAT, is a test used for admission to college. The ACT is a content-based test with English, math, science and reading sections, according to the test maker’s website. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36 and averages the scores of the individual subjects.
The SAT focuses on a student’s critical thinking skills to predict how a student might perform in college, according to the College Board, which administers the SAT.
Georgia is often considered an “SAT state” because a high percentage of its students take the test, said Matt Cardoza, director of communications for the state Department of Education. This year, 74 percent of Georgia high school seniors took the test.
At the same time, 44 percent of students took the ACT this year. While there are still more students in the state who choose the SAT, the number of students taking the ACT is growing at a faster rate, Cardoza said. In 2009, 40 percent of the state’s graduating seniors took the test, according to ACT Inc.
In Georgia, students earned an average ACT composite score of 20.7 this year, a slight increase from 20.6 in 2009.
The national average was 21 points, compared to last year’s 21.1 points, according to an August news release from the state.
Within the past five years, Georgia’s scores have improved considerably when compared to students across the country, the same news release stated. In 2005, the state was ranked 47th in ACT scores. Last year, Georgia climbed to 40th, then to 34th this year.
The percentage of students taking the test, both in Georgia and across the state, depends largely on the educational goals of the students and the requirements of the schools in that state, Cardoza said.
Georgia colleges and universities traditionally have relied on the SAT in the admissions process, and as a result more students will take the SAT to meet their requirements.
In contrast, while Mississippi has been ranked among the top-scoring states in the country, only about 3 percent of the students take the SAT there, likely high-achieving students, Cardoza said. In general, test averages decline as more students take the test.
In Bibb County, 290 students took the ACT in 2010, up from 232 the year before, said Bruce Giroux, the school system’s director of assessment and accountability. In 2006, fewer than 200 students took the test.
“It’s still a small number for us, but it’s growing,” Giroux said. “There’s more student interest in taking the test to get into college.”
With that increase of students came a slight decrease in Bibb County’s ACT score, from 17.7 in 2009, to 17.5 in 2010.
However, many of the schools within the system boosted their scores. Hutchings Career Center increased its composite score from 15.8 in 2009 to 19.0 this year, and Northeast boosted its score from 15.5 last year to 17.1 in 2010.
According to Giroux, the improved scores at the schools can be attributed to the rigor of the academic programs provided to students, more accessibility to Advanced Placement courses and teacher training.
“We’re all wanting students go on beyond high school,” Giroux said.
“There’s a better understanding of the need to succeed to school beyond high school.”
In Houston County, 381 students took the ACT in 2010, nearly doubling county participation from 2006, when 204 students took the test.
The trend is expected to continue as Houston County’s student population continues to grow overall, said Eric Payne, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
This year, students in Houston County earned an average score of 20.0, trailing behind last year’s score of 20.3. Based on state data, Houston County’s scores have been comparable to state averages since 2007.
ACT test scores in Houston County have remained steady for about five years, even as more students have opted to take the test, Payne said. A number of students have opted to take both the ACT and the SAT.
At Mary Persons High School in Monroe County, more students than ever are taking the ACT, said senior counselor Isabell Byas.
In 2010, 71 students there took the ACT, compared to 54 in 2009 and 25 in 2008.
This year, students at Mary Persons earned a composite score of 18.8, up from 18.5 last year.
Every year, Byas said she provides students with information about the college entrance tests and encourages them to take both the ACT and the SAT.
“Most students tend to do better on ACT,” Byas said, based on her experience. “It’s a subject-oriented test. ... It’s more related to what they’re used to seeing in education.”
The admissions department at Macon State College accepts scores from either test from prospective students, said Bruce Applewhite, the school’s director of admissions.
While students in Georgia tend to gravitate toward the SAT, more and more schools in the state have encouraged students to take both tests, Applewhite said.
“Historically, we’ve seen students taking the SAT more, but what we are seeing is more ACT scores coming in,” Applewhite said. “I think students are preparing themselves better for college admission and completing all potential requirements in order to give them a better chance in being accepted in the school of their choice.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.