South Carolina's Scholastic Aptitude Test scores dropped by five points in 2010, making the state 49th in the nation with only Maine scoring lower. The state's average composite SAT score was 1,447 compared to the national average of 1,509.
However, ACT scores were much better and rose again for the eighth consecutive year to a score of 20, compared to 21 nationwide.
Most local schools followed the state trend in both SAT and ACT scores.
Only three showed significant improvement in SAT scores.
Hunter-Kinard-Tyler in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Four gained 26 points to a composite average of 1,151 and received a Magna Cum Laude award for rapid improvement.
Scores at Lake Marion High School & Technology Center in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Three rose by 108 points for an average of 1,455. Lake Marion was the only local school to reach or pass the state average.
Denmark-Olar High School in Bamberg School District Two gained 98 points for an average of 1,348.
Dr. Shirlan Jenkins, associate superintendent of learning for OCSD 4, said students all over the district, especially at H-K-T, are showing improvement because of more rigorous teaching and academic standards.
Additionally, testing and assessment conforms better to federal standards and other states since South Carolina switched from the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test to the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, she said.
PACT standards were much more rigorous than federal requirements and more difficult than in most other states, Jenkins said.
"We were the third highest in the nation, but we've adjusted some," she said.
Standards are still high on the PASS test, but are more in line with those standards of other states, Jenkins said.
Bonnie Moskos, executive director for curriculum instruction in OCSD 3, says a number of factors were involved in Lake Marion's improved scores.
"We have a focus on literacy, reading skills," she said. "We've looked at improving methodology ... to offer effective classroom instruction and ongoing professional development."
Additionally, the teachers are very hardworking and dedicated and students are engaged in the classroom, Moskos said. The students are more actively involved in the learning process, and the environment is no longer one where the teacher stands and lectures, she said.
The improvement shown by Denmark-Olar students was based on several things, according to superintendent, Dr. Jake Sello. In part, it resulted from hardworking, dedicated teachers and students, he said. But the district also offered a course on taking the SAT and talked with the students about the importance of doing well on the test.
Students' understanding of how good test scores can play a significant role in their future had a great influence on the students, Sello said.
SAT scores in other areas schools dropped by as much as 126 points at Calhoun County High School and as little as four points at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five.
Jenkins said there are a number of reasons why South Carolina schools show up so poorly on the SAT when compared with other states. One thing that affected it in the past was the inequality of the PACT test, she said. Another thing that still affects the state's standing is that all students are permitted to take the tests, Jenkins said. In some areas, only students who have taken college preparatory courses are permitted to take them.
Students have to have a school's identification number before they're allowed to take the SAT test, and some schools refuse to give out their ID numbers to those who have not taken college preparatory courses, Jenkins said.
A low number of students being tested is another factor that can lower scores, according to Jenkins. When just a handful of students take a test, one or two students who do really poorly can have a significant effect on the score, she said.
David Damm, principal of Edisto High School, also says the number of students can affect the score. Numbers can be skewed to say almost anything, he said. Both the number of students who took a test and the number who passed it should be considered in the score, Damm said.
A number of local schools followed the state trend of showing improvement in ACT scores.
Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School, which dropped 55 points on the SAT, improved in every academic area on the ACT and gained two points, rising from a composite score of 16.8 in 2009 to 18.8 in 2010.
Bethune-Bowman High earned a Magna Cum Laude award for rapid improvement on the ACT and Branchville High School came close to the state composite average of 20, increasing from 18.7 to 19.2. HKT also rose by two points, from 14.9 to 16.9.
Some colleges and universities will accept either SAT or ACT scores, while others specifically require SAT and still others specifically require ACT. The ACT deals with content area, including English, math, science and reading. The SAT includes math, English and writing skills.
Superintendent Cynthia Wilson and Deputy Superintendent Sharon Berry were not available to discuss the OCSD 5 scores.