Georgia still 50th on SAT scores

By Trina Trice

Georgia's scores for the 2003 Scholastic Assessment Test show some improvement, but still fall below the national average.

This is the second consecutive year that Georgia high school students ranked 50th in the nation in SAT scores.

Georgia improved four points upon the 2002 test, from 489 to 493, while math scores topped out at 491.

Overall, Georgia's 984 SAT average score still falls short of the national average of 1,026, which was up six points from last year.

Clayton County school officials are waiting for a district report that could take six weeks for them to receive, said Dr. Ray Blakely, coordinator of Student Assessment.

"Individual schools got their scores (Tuesday)," he said. "That's on the top of my agenda (today), to get with schools to get their reports."

Although the average score for Georgia students increased by four points over last year, from a total 980 to 984, "it's going to take time to recover from the previous administration, both fiscally and educationally," said Dan McLagan, spokesman for Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue. "The governor is working with educators and families to improve education generally and SAT scores specifically."

McLagan said the governor's plan would be rolled out in the next few weeks.

Democratic Rep. Bob Holmes of Atlanta said Perdue's criticism of former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes was unfounded and ignored the fact that a Republican school superintendent fought the reforms Barnes proposed.

"One can't blame that administration or the Legislature," he said.

The current state school superintendent, Republican Kathy Cox, said the results were disappointing "but it's not a surprise."

The national average for the verbal portion of the test this year was 507, up from 504 a year earlier, and the math average was 519, up from 516.

Like many of her predecessors, Cox pointed to the state's high percentage of test-takers as a factor in the low scores, the same explanation given for last year's scores. About 67 percent of those eligible took the test in Georgia, the third-highest rate in the Southeast.

"But even among those states with high participation rates, Georgia is not first among those," she added. That means, she said, the state must ask whether its students are being adequately prepared and whether they are taking academically challenging classes.

Cox said she hopes to push for more students to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, available in the earlier high school grades.

Students who take the PSAT, and their schools, are given diagnostic reports that show their academic weaknesses, she said.

The state Board of Education is presenting a revised curriculum for the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year, establishing higher expectations for students and teachers.

"A solid curriculum will clear up any notion as to what is expected. It will be a statewide standardization of what we can expect when a kid takes U.S. history or geometry or an 11th grade English class," she said.

The current curriculum doesn't produce that, she said, because it is "too broad, too loosely worded."

Merchuria Chase Williams, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said the SAT doesn't truly measure what teachers have taught in the classroom and that Georgia students "probably are doing better than it shows."

"But I'm not saying we shouldn't be working at bringing scores up," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.