While ACT scores statewide scored just below the national average, Aiken County School District high school graduates scored well above the state and slightly above the national average when they took the test last spring,, District officials said.

“These scores have continued over times,” said King Laurence, the associate superintendent for instruction. “It’s not a one-time thing.”

ACT is a standardized exam that tests students for college and careers – generally similar to the more well-known SAT exam. Individual students received scores ranging from 1 to 36.

While some current seniors have taken the ACT exam this year, the formal results are based on senior scores from the spring. A total of 579 Aiken County seniors took the ACT this year averaging scores of 21.1 – ahead of the state’s 20.4 and the nation’s 21.0.

With 96 seniors taking the test, Aiken High had the highest average with 23.6, followed by South Aiken High School (150 students, 22.1) and North Augusta High (165 students 20.9).

The other high school scores were Midland Valley (62 students, 19.7), Silver Bluff (48 students, 19.7), Ridge Spring-Monetta (27 students, 18.6), Wagener-Salley (25 students, 16.2) and the Aiken Performing Arts Academy charter school (6 students, 18.2).

National ACT officials reported that an 0.3 increase from the previous year indicates a significant improvement. RS-M saw a 2.0 increase from 2013. Aiken moved up 0.8 points and North Augusta’s increase was 0.4.

The ACT scores also exceeded the national state averages in 2013, said Dr. Tim Yarborough, the Aiken District’s high school academic officer.

The ACT continues to gain in student participation. Although the SAT still has higher numbers, the ACT test had seen an increase of 12.7 percent in 2013 and 11.9 percent this year.

According to ACT officials, schools showing a 0.3 point increase or greater show statistically significant improvement. The highest district scores were at Aiken High School, with a 23.6 composite score for 2014 increasing 0.8 points from last year’s score of 22.8. Students at Ridge Spring-Monetta High School showed the largest improvement with a total composite score for 2014 of 18.6, up from 16.6 in 2013. Also notable was North Augusta High School’s score of 20.9, up 0.4 points from its 2013 score of 20.5.

The ACT could emerge into a much larger presence and additional role statewide, as early as next spring. During the S.C. General Assembly session that ended in June, lawmakers abandoned the High School Assessment Program, more commonly known as the exit exam. The state still needs an assessment program, which would not have an exit exam component.

The State Department of Education must have a replacement by Sept. 30, taking effect next spring Laurence, Yarborough and Director of Administration Randy Stowe agree the ACT is in the running for that role.

“ACT is a suite of tests ready to go,” Yarborough said. “You can buy it, and no test development is necessary.”

ACT administers a WorkKeys program that serves as a job skills assessment system. State legislators changed that program this year. Previously, high school seniors – primarily those in career and technology education programs – took WorkKeys. Now all juniors will take the test. With that development, it would make sense to go with the ACT as the broader assessment structure, the District officials said.

Ironically, the ACT is being revamped at the national level, said Stowe. At a time when the General Assembly reject Common Core academic standards – the ACT will be aligned with those standards.