Beaufort County scores on the 2014 ACT college entrance exam dipped slightly, while the number of students taking the exam grew by 29 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
The public-school district's average score among 2014 graduates was 20.6, down two-tenths of a point on a 36-point scale from 2013.
Despite the drop, the district's average remained above the state's -- which was up slightly from 20.1 to 20.2 -- but below the national average of 21.
The number of test-takers in Beaufort County this year increased from 431 to 558. Over five years, average ACT scores in the county have increased from 20.2 in 2009, when 306 took the exam.
"Increasing our districtwide average score over five years while increasing student participation by 82 percent represents solid progress," superintendent Jeff Moss said in a news release, adding that increases in student participation are usually accompanied by drops in average scores. "But we've still got a lot of work to do as we prepare students to be successful after high school."
Three of the district's high schools improved their average scores over last year: Battery Creek, Beaufort and Whale Branch Early College high schools. Bluffton and Hilton Head Island high schools saw slight drops in their averages.
The averages ranged from 17.3 at Whale Branch High to 21.7 at Hilton Head High.
Beaufort High principal Corey Murphy and Battery Creek High principal Edmond Burnes both said they were happy to see scores and the number of test-takers rise at their schools. Both said they will continue to offer preparation workshops and tutoring, as well as help students in subjects with the lowest scores.
Hilton Head High principal Amanda O'Nan said that in the past, more of her students have taken the rival SAT college-entrance exam. She said the school will provide more support and resources for students preparing to take the ACT.
Attempts Wednesday to reach Bluffton High principal Mark Dievendorf and Whale Branch High principal Priscilla Drake were unsuccessful.
More Beaufort County seniors -- more than 700 last year -- took the SAT than the ACT, but that could change this school year.
On a school day in spring, the district will give the ACT to all juniors and ACT's WorkKeys test, designed to measure job skills, to all seniors. That will mark the first time the district has administered a college board exam during the school day, according to head of instructional services Dereck Rhoads.
"The SAT is just now aligning themselves with the more rigorous standards and updating their test; whereas, the ACT has already made those changes with their assessment," Rhoads said.
District high school counselors work with students to determine which of the two tests better suits their career interests and academic strengths.
The ACT is designed to measure the academic skills that are taught in school. The SAT measures how well students think based on their experiences in and out of the classroom.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- SAT redesigned; Beaufort County schools lean toward ACT test, March 17, 2014
- Beaufort County students' ACT scores up slightly: Jasper County scores largely unchanged, August 21, 2013
- Beaufort County students' ACT scores dip slightly, August 22, 2012
- District officials: Despite decline in test scores this year, long-term trend positive, August 6, 2014
- Testing Series: Standardized testing causes big-time collateral damage, March 29, 2014