NC’s SAT scores drop, even as more students graduate

North Carolina’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, but new SAT results released Thursday show that scores on the college admissions exam are down from where they were last year and a decade ago.

The combined average math, reading and writing SAT score for all North Carolina students during the 2014-15 school year was 1,478 – a drop of five points from the previous year. When looking just at North Carolina’s public schools, the average math and reading scores have dropped a combined 16 points in the past 10 years.

In the SAT score drop “you see the impact of lack of resources for certain initiatives,” such as early childhood education services, extra help for struggling students and issues such as teacher retention, said State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat.

“All these factors chip away” at the state’s ability to make as much progress as it needs to, Atkinson said Thursday.

The state’s average SAT score has fallen even as the percentage of seniors taking the exam has dropped. The participation rate has gone from 70 percent in 2004 to 59 percent this year. Scores typically rise when participation drops.

SAT results were mixed among Triangle school districts.

The average SAT score rose 23 points to 1,776 in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system and three points to 1,470 in Johnston County. But the average SAT score dropped eight points to 1,569 in Wake County, 10 points to 1,539 in Orange County and eight points to 1,398 in Durham.

Atkinson noted that SAT scores also dropped nationally and that North Carolina moved up the national rankings.

Nationally, the average SAT score fell seven points to 1,490 – the lowest it has been in a decade.

“We know we can, and need, to do better,” says Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment for the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT exam. “Simply doing the same things we have been doing is not going to improve these numbers.”

The SAT exam is undergoing a major revamp that will roll out next year, including shifting away from obscure vocabulary words and eliminating the penalty for guessing.

The SAT results come a day after state and local education leaders heralded results showing that North Carolina’s graduation rate is at a record 85.4 percent. It’s up from 68.3 percent when the figures were first recorded in 2006.

Education officials were focusing Wednesday on the graduation gains instead of on how results on state exams were static, with fewer schools meeting academic growth targets.

But scores on the SAT and other exams raise questions about how well prepared North Carolina students are for college.

Figures released last week for the ACT, a rival college admissions exam, show that the state’s composite score was 19.0, slightly up from 18.9 the prior year. Among the states where all public high school graduates took the ACT, North Carolina scores are among the lowest.

State test results released Wednesday show that only about a third of the 1.6 million students are on pace to be considered “college and career ready.”

Staff writer Lynn Bonner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

View SAT results

Go to to download SAT results for individual North Carolina public schools and school districts.

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