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County SAT scores up for 3rd year

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools has bucked a statewide trend.

While Georgia high school students fared worse on the SAT for the fourth year in a row, GCPS' average score rose for the third consecutive year. In fact, students in the district posted the second-highest average score the school system has seen since a new version of the test was implemented five years ago.

GCPS' average score on the 2,400-point test designed to measure the critical-thinking skills necessary to succeed in college was 1532, a six-point increase from last year. That score is 11 points higher than the lowest average score in 2008, but nine points lower than the highest average in 2006.

"As (the Gwinnett) school system continues to grow and the number of minorities and students in poverty increases, for them to have seen an increase is a testament to (their work)," said Steve Dolinger, the president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

The GPEE is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inform and influence Georgia leaders through research and non-partisan advocacy to affect education policies and practices for the improvement of student achievement.

Overall, Georgia's SAT scores are disappointing, Dolinger said. The state has put good pieces in place, such as increasing the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes.

"It's just disappointing we're not seeing a change in (the direction of) the overall score," Dolinger said.

Susan Walker, the GPEE's director of policy and research, echoed Dolinger's sentiments. She said districts throughout the state should look to Gwinnett for best practices.

Gwinnett, the state's largest school system, has some of the highest-performing public schools in Georgia. Seven schools -- Brookwood, Parkview, Mill Creek, Collins Hill, North Gwinnett, Duluth and Peachtree Ridge -- had average scores that were among the top 50 in the state.

At Brookwood, where the average SAT score of 1651 was the highest in the county, principal Debra Dees said she can't pinpoint one particular thing the school is doing to foster success. She credits the success to the dedicated and supportive teachers at the school, as well as the cluster elementary and middle schools that work to prepare students for success in high school.

"We have a culture where teachers and students love to come to school," Dees said. "They love to learn, and they love to be at Brookwood High School."

The state's average score on the SAT was 1453, a seven-point drop from last year and a 24-point drop from 2006, when scores began to decrease steadily. The state also lags behind the national average score of 1509, which stayed flat this year.

One reason for Georgia's decline is that the number of test-takers increased to 66,000 from last year's 63,000. Typically, states with larger pools of test-takers fare worse in their scores.

Walker said it's important to keep in mind that the SAT is not meant to be a tool to compare states and school districts, although it is often used that way. She said it's also important to note that the test is not based on Georgia's curriculum.

"It's an individual test that tells you how well an individual student is prepared for college," Walker said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.