TAMPA - Hillsborough County's 2007 graduating class scored higher on the SAT than last year's class, and some high schools posted dramatic gains, school officials said Tuesday morning.
District spokesman Steve Hegarty said the number of seniors taking the college entrance exam rose by 4 percent, or 361 students. The combined verbal and math score this year was 1005, a 1-point increase over last year's score. The verbal portion of the test was 2 points higher, while the math portion slipped by 1 percent, officials said.
"Also," he said in a prepared statement announcing the results, "Hillsborough County students continue to outperform their peers statewide. Some high schools posted large gains in average combined scores."
He cited Middleton High, which scored a 43-point increase, marking the fourth straight year of significant progress. He also pointed to King and Jefferson high schools, which posted 49-point and 59-point increases, respectively.
"That is just amazing to me," Hegarty said.
Jefferson High guidance resource specialist Dana Pines gives credit for the huge increases to an initiative that began when this year's graduating seniors were freshmen.
The program funneled more Hispanic and black students with good grades into Advanced Placement classes, exposing them to a curriculum that eventually paid off on the SAT scores this year.
"This year," she said, "it's showing the difference."
The 59-point jump is huge compared with the four-point increase last year over the year before, she said.
She also gave credit to after-school SAT preparatory classes that helped more students.
"We had a big turnout for those classes," she said.
The local scores from the other widely used college entrance exam, the ACT, weren't as rosy, Hegarty said, possibly because the number of Hillsborough students taking the tests was one-third higher the previous year year. That's a result of new graduation requirements, he said.
School officials said 4,650 county students took the test this year.
In Hillsborough, ACT scores dipped from 20.5 last year to 19.7 in 2007. The test is scored from 1 to 36. Hegarty said that even though the number of students taking the ACT increased significantly, resulting in the expected dip in average scores, the number of students who scored higher than 26, considered exceptionally high, increased by 10 percent, from 520 last year to 572 this year.
Still, the local ACT scores are two-tenths of a point lower than the state average and almost two points below the national average.
Across the nation, average math and reading SAT scores fell four points for the class of 2007.
Last spring's graduating seniors scored an average of 502 out of a possible 800 points on the critical reading section of SAT, down from 503 for the class of 2006. Math scores fell three points, from 518 to 515.
This year's national declines follow a seven-point drop last year for the first class to take the lengthened and redesigned SAT, which included higher-level math questions and eliminated analogies. The College Board, which owns the exam, insisted the new exam wasn't harder and attributed last year's drop to fewer students taking the exam a second time. Students typically fare about 30 points better when they take the exam again.
The College Board's score report did not offer an explanation of why this year's scores were even lower, but it did note that a record number of students - just short of 1.5 million - took the test. The test-takers were the most diverse ever, with minority students accounting for 39 percent. There has been a persistent gap between the scores of whites and the two largest U.S. minority groups, Hispanics and blacks.
While the growing number of test-takers is considered a sign more people are interested in college, it can also weigh down average scores because the pool of test-takers expands by including, on average, more lower-scoring students.
The number of black students taking the SAT rose 6 percent, and the number of test-takers calling themselves "Other Hispanic, Latino or Latin American" (a group that does not include Puerto Ricans or Mexican Americans) rose more than 25 percent.
Average scores slipped from 497 to 494 on the writing portion of the SAT, which debuted with the class of 2006. Many colleges are waiting to see results from the first few years of data on the writing exam before determining how to use it.
National figures released this month on the ACT showed a slight increase - from 21.1 points last year to 21.2, on the scoring scale of 1 to 36 - for the class of 2007.
The SAT has historically been more popular on the East and West coasts, while the ACT has been more popular in the Midwest and inland western states. But more students are taking both exams to try to improve their college résumés.