COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's graduating seniors posted lower scores on the SAT college entrance exam for the fourth consecutive year, but more students than ever are taking college-level Advanced Placement courses, according to data released Monday by the tests' administrator.
The average composite score for the Class of 2012 on the SAT's math, critical reading and writing portions was 1,431. That's five points below last year and 23 points below 2008's recalculated figure. The national average dropped two points from 2011 to 1,498, according to the College Board.
The test has a maximum possible score of 2,400. The College Board considers 1,550 a benchmark for indicating college success.
Broken down by subject, South Carolina's students averaged 488 in math (a two-point drop from last year), 481 in critical reading (a one-point decrease) and 462 in writing (also a two-point drop).
State schools Superintendent Mick Zais said he'd obviously like the numbers to be higher, but SAT scores are not an effective way to measure schools' performance. Too many variables impact the score, he said, adding that he continues to focus instead on improving fourth-grade reading scores.
"Reading is fundamental to everything else in a student's education," he said. "If students cannot read, they will not succeed in school."
Meanwhile, nearly 22,000 AP tests received scores high enough to earn college credit. That's up by more than 10 percent from last year. The number of tests taken increased by 14 percent. That's more than double the national increase of 6 percent.
But the number of tests isn't equal to the number of students, as many take more than one.
Nearly 14,000 students statewide took AP tests in 2011-12, about 13 percent more than last school year. The passing rate per student declined slightly: 58 percent of students taking AP classes passed at least one test, down from 59 percent last school year.
Zais said he believes South Carolina's participation rate is higher because state law mandates that every high school offer AP classes and requires students in each AP class take the college-credit test. The state budget also covers the College Board's testing fees, rather than leave them to students — an expense Zais called a money-saving move for both taxpayers and the students.
Students who enter college with credits can graduate early or take a reduced class load, he said.
The five most-taken AP tests in South Carolina were U.S. history, English language, English literature, calculus AB and geography.
Nearly 26,800 of the state's high school seniors took the SAT — about 320 more than last year.
College-bound students often take the SAT more than once to improve their scores. In its annual report, the College Board uses the last score of each graduating senior. Last year, the board began including the results of SAT tests taken by seniors in May and June, and then recalculated previous years, back to 2007, after noticing a dramatic uptick in students taking the SAT for the first time in those late months.
In each case, adding those tests worsened South Carolina's averages, echoing a trend nationwide.
Students who wait so late to take the SAT probably did not plan long-term to go to college or take the courses needed to prepare them, the board has said.
That's why the College Board discourages comparing SAT results from state to state, due to the wide range in the number of students taking the test, and discourages directly comparing one class to the next.