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Two Houston schools only local ones to beat national SAT average

While many Middle Georgia high schools performed lower on the SAT than state and national averages this year, Northside High School has managed to increase its score by 111 points since 2007.

The increase in scores has not come overnight, said Northside principal Mark Scott, but rather, as the result of long-term preparation.

“It doesn’t start with one or two years,” Scott said. “It’s the culmination of several years. Everyone has a part in that. The teachers have high expectations of the kids.”

Thanks to this dramatic increase, the class of 2009 at Northside, along with Houston County High School, scored above the national average of 1,509. Northside High School scored 1,521 out of a possible 2,400, and Houston County High School scored 1,514, according to data released by the College Board last week.

Scott said there has been a push at the school to create more rigorous courses during the years.

Northside has increased both the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and the number of those courses the school offers. Along with that has come a push to help make sure students earn passing scores on at least 3 out of 5 on AP exams, which can be applied toward college credit.

There has also been an emphasis on critical thinking skills and writing in the classroom as a whole, Scott said.

Scott feels that the push for more rigorous courses over the last few years has been reflected in the higher SAT scores, leading to students who are better prepared to take the test.

During the past three years, Northside’s average score has increased from 1,410 in 2007, to 1,466 in 2008, to this year’s 1,521.

Scoring an average of 1,506, nearly the same as in 2008, the Houston County school system is 46 points above the state average of 1,460. Warner Robins High School averaged 1,499. Perry High School saw a dramatic jump in SAT scores, scoring an average of 1,485 — 29 points higher than last year, according to the data.

HIGH NUMBER

This year, 71 percent of students in Georgia took the SAT, compared to 46 percent nationally, according to a news release from the Georgia Board of Education. With more than 40 percent of its students taking the test, Georgia is distinguished as a “high participation state.”

The College Board data also showed that minority students in Georgia outperformed their counterparts on a national level. Hispanic public school students scored 1,412, 66 points above the national average. African-Americans scored 1,274, 10 points above the national average.

Between Georgia’s African-American and white students, the data showed an achievement gap of 274 points. There was a 136-point gap between Hispanic and white students. While the data showed significant achievement gaps between minority and white students, the gaps were smaller in Georgia than on the national level.

While students in high schools in Houston County were among the highest scores in the Middle Georgia area, other high-scoring schools included Hawkinsville High School, with an average total score of 1,499, and Bleckley County High School, with an average score of 1,483.

Among the lowest scoring schools are Southwest and Northeast high schools in Bibb County, with average scores of 1,143 and 1,147 respectively.

HOW IT’S DONE

Northside offers programs such as Operation Eagle, providing remedial help for students who have failed courses, failed graduation tests or struggled in other academic areas.

In addition to the courses, online SAT preparation is available for students. Scott said Northside tries to keep its students informed about all available SAT preparation methods.

Houston County High School also utilizes a variety of strategies to help students with their SAT scores, including an SAT preparation course during the school year, Mercer’s Educational Opportunity workshops in the fall for seniors and spring for juniors, online test preparation, a progressive vocabulary curriculum in English classes, and SAT practice time during the school day, principal Sherri Freeman said.

“The students consistently do well, and we’re proud of them when the scores reflect the work they do,” Freeman said. “They work hard to achieve at high levels.”

More importantly, Freeman expressed a desire for continued improvement in Houston County High’s scores. While students at Houston County High School scored higher than the national average this year, they scored lower than last year’s 1,536.

“The students scored well, but we’re never satisfied with that,” she said. “We want them to score higher each year.

A FOCUS ON CRITICAL READING

Overall, Houston County high schools scored higher than the national average on the critical reading portion of the test, earning 508 out of a possible 800, compared to the national average of 501.

Dr. Amy Fouse, language arts and English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) coordinator for the Houston County Board of Education, said the skills needed to do well on the test are important for day-to-day work.

“Critical reading skills provide them an opportunity to interpret and connect with real-world relevant texts,” Fouse said.

In a written statement, she attributed the school system’s success to adherence to state performance standards.

“Through focused, standards-based instruction of Georgia Performance Standards (GPS), our teachers diligently provided effective, targeted instruction on reading comprehension,” Fouse wrote. “Because of their close alignment to the GPS, their instruction helped produce high achieving students on the critical reading section of the SAT.”

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.

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