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Local SAT scores top Georgia's

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two local school districts bested the state average on SAT scores released this week, bolstered by a new writing portion on the test.

Both Gwinnett and Barrow County schools topped the statewide average of 1,477 points - Gwinnett by its widest margin yet, and Barrow for the first time in four years. Students in the Buford City Schools were eight points below the state average.

For the first time, the test is out of 2,400 points instead of 1,600. A new writing portion was added to the college entrance exam, and the other two sections - math and critical reading - were altered to include questions that test students on Algebra II in the math section, and eliminate analogies in favor of longer reading passages in critical reading. Each of the three sections is worth between 200 and 800 points.

Gwinnett's average score of 1,541 is 64 points higher than the state average, schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. Linda Mitchell, the district's executive director of student accountability, assessment and advisement, said she attributes the gain to the rigorous courses Gwinnett students take.

"With a new test, there are higher expectations," she said. "We feel very good about how our students did. It's our biggest differential ever."

About 82 percent of the district's 2006 graduates took the exam, Mitchell said, and a similar number planned to go to college this fall. Mitchell said more students are taking Advanced Placement classes and SAT prep classes online, which prepare them for the test.

"It's just another demonstration of the quality of Gwinnett teachers, our very strong curriculum and the willingness of students to work very hard," she said.

In Barrow County, Testing Specialist Matt Thompson said he was extremely excited about a 64-point gain in the math and critical reading portions of the SAT at Apalachee High School that brought the district's average to 1,489 points overall.

Four years ago, Thompson said, the district created a plan to improve its SAT scores that included offering all students access to an SAT prep course. While scores have been increasing since then, this is the first year since it was implemented that Barrow County's score has been higher than Georgia's.

"We're exceptionally excited about it," he said. "This is the first year in a long while that we've exceeded the state average."

The district also changed its curriculum requirements to recommend tougher math classes, Thompson said, and encouraged more students to take AP classes.

Nationally, there was a dip in scores on the exam because of fatigue issues, Thompson said. Although Barrow students are still below the national average of 1,518, Thompson said he was encouraged that their scores rose while scores fell nationwide.

About 41 percent of the district's 2006 graduates took the SAT, and Thompson said he did not know how many of them intended to go to college.

Elaine Carter, Buford's director of assessment and data, said the district is pleased with their overall score of 1,469, but hopes to increase the score in the future.

"We're never going to be satisfied wherever we are," she said. "There's definitely room for improvement. ... No matter what we made, we always hope to do better."

Carter said the district has already begun to focus more attention on writing for students and scores on that portion of the exam - Buford students scored 470 points on average - validated that decision. Students dropped three points from last year's verbal score to critical reading this year, and gained one point on the math section, she said.

Buford will continue using online tutoring to improve scores, she said. About 62 percent of the district's students take the test.

Statewide, about 70 percent of students take the SAT, down from 75 percent last year. Georgia, which was long at the bottom of the pack for SAT scores, rose to 46th this year when the writing portion was added to the exam, beating Florida, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Without the inclusion of writing scores, Georgia ranks 49th in the country. The state ranks last among the 50 states on the math section, with a mean score of 496, and 45th in reading scores, with a mean score of 494. The state's 487 on the new writing portion of the test earned Georgia a 41st ranking among the 50 states.

- The Associated Press contributed to this article.