State averages on the SAT college entrance exam fell for the third consecutive year, but the percentage of high school students earning college credit through Advance Placement tests increased, according to data released Wednesday by the tests' administrator.
It's not yet clear how Beaufort County School District students fared.
Normally, state- and school district-level results are released at the same time. But the College Board's new method of calculating yearly averages meant the 2011 data cannot be aptly compared to 2010 data, a state education official said.
Jay Ragley, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education, said the department noticed a problem with the data Tuesday and called the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the tests.
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The College Board included more 2011 test-takers in the average than it did in 2010. College-bound students often take the SAT more than once to improve their scores. In its annual report, the College Board uses the last score of each graduating senior.
This year the board began including the results of SATs taken by seniors in May and June -- the previous cutoff was March -- and then recalculated previous years, back to 2007, after noticing a dramatic uptick in students taking the SAT for the first time in those late months, according to board spokeswoman Kathleen Fineout Steinberg.
In each case, adding those tests worsened South Carolina's averages, echoing a trend nationwide.
"Traditionally, if you hadn't taken the SAT by March of your senior year, you weren't going to college," Steinberg said. "The good news is more kids are considering college. ... You want as many students as possible going to college."
A more diverse, larger test-taking pool generally causes averages to decline, she said.
The state recalculated 2010 scores that include May and June test-takers, Ragley said. But those recalculated scores weren't available Tuesday for school districts or individual schools. Ragley said he expected the updated data soon.
Across the state, 2011 SAT scores are down seven points, to an average of 1,436 on a 2,400-point scale. State scores lag the national average of 1,500 and fall behind in every portion of the test -- critical reading, math and writing.
South Carolina colleges and universities accept either ACT or SAT scores for admission, but the SAT is the state's most popular entrance exam.
Beaufort County students' scores on the ACT, announced in August dipped this year, ending a three-year streak of gains.
Meanwhile, the percentage of S.C. students passing exams that follow college-level AP courses increased by 10 percent this year -- a total increase of 33 percent over the past five years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.