LAWRENCEVILLE - Although Gwinnett County students continue to outperform their peers throughout the nation on the SAT, the school district saw a decline this year in its average composite score on the college-readiness exam.
Barrow County Schools saw a decrease in its average scores, which slid behind state and national averages. But students at Buford High School bucked the national trend with a composite score of 1,507, a 38-point increase from the year before.
Gwinnett County's average score fell 17 points to 1,524, which is 52 points higher than the state average of 1,472 and 13 points above the national average of 1,511. The highest possible score on the SAT is 2,400, and the critical reading, mathematics and writing sections are scored on scales of 200 to 800.
While Gwinnett's students have historically made significant gains on the test, this is the second year the district has seen a decrease in SAT scores, said Linda Mitchell, the system's executive director of student accountability, assessment and advisement.
"We're trying to disaggregate the data and look at the trends," Mitchell said. "If we knew exactly why the scores went down, we wouldn't have let them go down."
Preliminary figures show about 86 percent of Gwinnett's recent graduates took the SAT, compared with about 82 percent last year. Mitchell said the increase in student participation could affect the district's average score.
This decrease comes in a year when Gwinnett's students posted their highest-ever scores on the ACT and the Georgia High School Graduation Test, Mitchell said.
"We like to encourage all students to take both tests (the SAT and ACT)," Mitchell said.
While Barrow County's composite scores dropped from 996 to 967, students working toward dual diplomas by taking college-preparatory and vocational curriculum posted this year an average score of 997.
Also, students who took Barrow County's SAT preparatory class scored an average of 100 points higher than those who did not take the course, school district officials said. The course is free for all county students.
"We have uncovered specific areas that we must target to regain our outstanding SAT scores in Barrow County," Superintendent Ron Saunders said. "Furthermore, we will continue to strive to ensure our ultimate goal of scoring above not only the state of Georgia average, but eventually the national average."
Messages left Tuesday afternoon for Buford school officials were not returned by press time.
Brandon Jones, the national director of SAT and ACT programs for Kaplan, said the small decrease in state and national scores is "not something to be alarmed about."
The reading and math sections have been designed to be more challenging, with an increased focus on critical reading and the addition of Algebra II, Jones said.
Students who take the PSAT in their sophomore and junior years have scores that are, on average, 200 points higher than those who don't take the preliminary exam. Students are more confident when they take the PSAT and use free study materials.
"Preparing will help you raise your score," he said.