Georgia’s college-bound students hit SAT highs despite pandemic turmoil

Georgia high school seniors improved their SAT scores over last year’s class, though the pandemic makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the scores. (Image by Gillian Callison from Pixabay)

(GA Recorder) — Georgia’s class of 2021 showed significant increases in their SAT scores and performed better than the national average, though significantly fewer students took the test than in previous years.

Public school students across the state increased their average math score from 511 to 531 over last year’s class, and evidence-based reading and writing went from 532 to 546. Overall, the average Georgia student’s SAT score was 1077, 39 points higher than the national average.

“Despite the fact that part of their high-school education took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia’s class of 2021 did an outstanding job on the SAT — both increasing scores and outperforming their counterparts in the nation’s public schools,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods in a statement. “I am extremely proud of these students and these scores are a testament to their hard work, and the hard work of educators in Georgia’s public schools who continue to offer stellar educational opportunities despite the challenges of the last year and a half.”

Likely due to those challenges, fewer students signed up to take the test in the last year, according to data from the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Only 41,976 Georgia public school students took the SAT in the last school year, down from 64,047 the year before. Among last year’s graduating seniors, 38% took the SAT compared with 64% from the class of 2020. This drop happened around the country as testing sites closed down because of concerns about students inadvertently spreading COVID-19 as they bubbled in their test forms. About 700,000 fewer U.S. high school seniors took the SAT in 2021 than the year before.

“Even when they started back up in late summer, early fall of 2020, half the test sites were closed,” said Charles Mendels, founder and head tutor at Atlanta-based Access Test Prep. “And sometimes, they didn’t know until the day before they canceled or the night before. So part of it is that it’s just been hard to take either the SAT or ACT.”

Many Georgia universities allowed students to apply without submitting test scores last year.

The University System of Georgia announced in May that test score admission requirements will resume for the spring 2022 semester, but many Georgia students are hoping to study out of state or at a private college, and those schools are taking a variety of approaches to testing.

“Some schools have gone back to requiring testing and some are still test-optional, at least for this year,” Mendels said. “It’s unclear what the future will be. I think some that went test-optional might stay that way, but I think a lot will go back to requiring tests. It might take another year, it sort of depends on what’s going on with COVID and what they think is safe.”

And with so many universities making tests optional, at least temporarily, students who are confident in their ability to score high were more likely to sign up, reasoning that a good number could only boost their chances, which might help explain Georgia’s scores increasing.

“Test-optional doesn’t mean test-blind, so they’re still accepting scores and they’ll review them if they submit them, they just say if you don’t submit them, it won’t hurt you,” Mendels said. “The people who are actually able to do better on the tests are still taking them because they still think it’ll help them even at test-optional colleges, but the students who aren’t as good at these tests are less likely to take them because if they don’t need to, then there’s no point in sending in a score that’s not as good when the college is test optional.”

That’s not to say Georgia students are not improving over time, Mendels added. The state Department of Education reported that 2021 was the fourth year in a row that Georgia public school students beat the national average SAT score.

“There has been a little bit of a trend, so it might be things are just improving anyway, but I do think it’s really hard to evaluate anything based on the last year because it’s such an anomaly,” he said.

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