Continuing a recent trend, about half of Johnston County high school seniors took the SAT this past school year.
Data released this month by the College Board shows 48.2 percent of the class of 2014 took the college-admission test. That’s up slightly from the 2012-13 school year, but the percentage is lower than in some neighboring counties.
Since 1999, Johnston’s participation rate has fluctuated between 41 and 53 percent, averaging about 48 percent during that period.
In recent years, school officials have attributed lower participation to more students taking the ACT, the rival admission test that high school juniors now take for free.
Since 2011, the State Board of Education has made the ACT a requirement for all juniors. The test is one of several indicators the state uses to measure how North Carolina high schools stack up against each other and against schools in other states.
“Most of the time, if our juniors who are applying to college meet the cutoff for the ACT, I would think in most cases, these kids would not retake the SAT or take the SAT, period,” said Dr. Rodney Peterson, the Johnston County school system’s chief academic officer.
In college applications, most public universities accept the ACT in lieu of, or in addition to, the SAT.
The 922 Johnston County seniors who took the SAT last year scored a combined average of 1467 on the math, reading and writing portions of the test. The district’s average score was four points lower than the 2013 mark.
The state average for North Carolina public school students was 1468, according to the College Board report.
While participation has fluctuated, Johnston’s average score has been on a downward trend since 2006, when the SAT added a writing portion and students scored an average of 1509 on the test.
This year, the largest improvement was at Princeton High, where the average score of 1507 was 40 points higher than the year before. The biggest dip was at North Johnston High, from 1486 in 2013 to 1364 this year.
About 33 percent of North Johnston’s seniors, or roughly 50 students, took the SAT, down from 48.5 percent the prior year. North Johnston Principal Tim Harrell said the average score has gone down as more students have taken the ACT, which tests in English, math, reading, science and writing.
North Johnston students scored a composite mean of 18.1 on the five ACT sections in 2014, slightly lower than the county average of 18.2 and the state average of 18.5.
Harrell said his school is following the state’s lead by putting a stronger emphasis on the ACT. The school still has an SAT plan, which includes pre-tests and prep courses, but the ACT is becoming part of the curriculum.
“When they put the ACT in an accountability model for the school, they are serious about what they want us to do,” Harrell said.
At Smithfield-Selma High School, a target of criticism by parents for its poor academic performance in recent years, seniors scored an average of 1393 on the SAT this year, or 37 points higher than the prior year. The 33 percent of SSS seniors who took the test scored 14 points higher on math, 18 points higher on reading and five points higher on writing.
Smithfield-Selma Principal Stephen Baker said teachers are focusing on fundamentals that might correlate well with the college-admission tests. That includes broad initiatives like providing access to higher-level courses and more specific programs like the school’s “Word Walls,” which targets vocabulary skills.
“We want to make sure we are pushing them and stretching their minds,” Baker said.
Schools with the highest average SAT score this year included Johnston County Early College (1593), Johnston Middle College (1522) and Corinth Holders High (1518).
Clayton High’s average was 1461, down 28 points from the prior year, while Cleveland High’s score climbed 14 points to 1452.