By Trina Trice
The SAT scores of Clayton County students continue to drop.
The total average score for the county was 897 compared to 904 last year, while the scores for the Henry and Fayette county school systems are 984 and 1061, respectively.
"We're in the initial stages of analyzing (the data)," said Sam King, assistant superintendent of Support Services and Continuous Improvements. "It shows a slight increase on the verbal side, but not enough in my opinion. On the math, there was a decrease."
In 2002, the average verbal score for Clayton County students was 448, this year the score rose a point to 449.
The math score this year is 448, dropping eight points from 456, the score last year.
King would like to see problem-solving skills emphasized in the curriculum, he said.
"Research indicates that to do well on the SAT, those are the areas you need to hone in on," he said.
This is the second year in a row 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.
While Georgia's average SAT score was 984, the national average is 1,026, which was up six points from last year.
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.
High school senior Lauren Kirchner wasn't pleased with her SAT score.
Kirchner took the test in June for the first time.
"(The score) was bad," she said. "I think I can do better. I'm taking them again in October."
The high percentage of test-takers is a factor in the state's low scores, according to Kathy Cox, state superintendent of schools.
Some may wonder whether Clayton County's diverse student body is an influential factor in its low scores.
Board member and former school Superintendent Dr. Bob Livingston said that could be a factor, but further research should be conducted.
"Our test scores back in the 1980s and early 1990s were much higher," he said. "I remember people living in Henry and Fayette counties wanting to move to Clayton (because of the higher test scores), now it's the other way around. Something must be going on. I haven't studied it.
"In most states, unlike ours, there are only a small percentage of people who take the SAT, like the ones going to college," he said. "Here in the South, everybody takes them. What can you do?"
About 67 percent of eligible students 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 said.
The state must ask whether its students are being adequately prepared and whether they are taking academically challenging classes, Cox said.
While Cox pushes a more challenging curriculum for the 2004-2005 school year, King thinks the school system should try preparing its eighth graders.
"We want to increase the number of those eligible to take earth science and algebra I," he said.
High school students should be able to take SAT preparatory courses during the regular school day, instead of after school and on the weekend, King said.
SAT prep courses are offered to students as electives.
Cox said she hopes to push for more students taking the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, normally administered early in the high school academic career.
The PSAT is designed to help students identify academic strengths and weaknesses in preparation for their last two years of high school.
King would like to see local educators using the PSAT "in a diagnostic manner."
"We can extend (what is done with the PSAT)," he said. "We want to do more than just give them the PSAT and use those results for planning."
The SAT is administered by the College Board and is designed to measure verbal and quantitative reasoning skills related to academic performance in college. SAT scores are intended to help forecast how a student will perform academically in college.
SAT scores are rarely, if at all, used as the only determining factor for whether or not a student gets into college. In its policy, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has set the minimum SAT scores of 430 verbal and 400 math for admission into research, regional or state universities, such as the University of Georgia, Georgia State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Students without the minimum scores but with scores of at least 330 on the verbal and 310 on the math may be considered for admission to an associate degree college, such as Clayton College & State University or Perimeter College.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.