The Aiken County Public School District’s "rigorous" academic offerings have earned a number of schools “advanced placement” among the state’s highest performing schools according to 2019 data releases from the College Board, including Wednesday's release of ACT scores.
The district announced the results in a news release Wednesday afternoon.
Among the academic highlights are South Aiken High School’s average composite score, which exceeded the state and national SAT average composite scores, and Aiken Scholars Academy’s Advanced Placement Exam college-credit rate of 81%, making Aiken County one of only 11 school districts in the state to have a school achieve a qualifying score rate above 80 percent.
The data release reflects the most recent SAT and ACT scores of last year’s seniors, not necessarily their highest scores submitted for college-bound students as part of their application for post-secondary education, according to the release.
In Aiken County, the number of students participating in advanced coursework at the high school level has increased with student participation at just 866 in 2016, increasing to 1,867 in 2019, representing a 115% increase in just three years. Along with the rise in student participants, scores of 3, 4, and 5 on the Advanced Placement exam have increased as well, growing to 1,082 in 2019 from 700 qualifying scores in 2016.
Scores of 3, 4 or 5 on an Advanced Placement exam typically are recognized by most colleges and universities for course credit.
South Aiken High School and North Augusta High School, the district’s first Advanced Placement Academies in partnership with the National Math + Science Initiative, experienced the most dramatic increases, with participation and scores on an upward trajectory at both campuses, according to the release.
South Aiken’s Class of 2016 had 243 students to participate in an AP exam. That number has increased each year, with 459 students tested in 2017, 536 in 2018 and 563 in 2019.
The National Math + Science Initiative will write $43,700 in checks to students at South Aiken High School alone, rewarding students with incentive checks in the amount of $100 for each qualifying score.
North Augusta High School experienced transformational increases in student participation and performance in Advanced Placement courses and qualifying exam scores, according to the release.
Just 237 students took an AP exam at North Augusta in 2016, a number that jumped to 406 in 2017, then 540 in 2018 and 541 in 2019. At a forthcoming Academic Pep Rally, a signature event for NMSI schools, North Augusta’s students will be presented with $35,600 in incentive checks, $100 for each of the school’s 356 qualifying scores made out individually to each deserving student, according to the release.
The newest National Math + Science Initiative partner school in Aiken County, through a gift from Centerra, is Silver Bluff High School. Silver Bluff High has experienced steady growth in AP enrollment each of the last four years. In 2019, 174 students participated in AP coursework, up from 52 students in 2016.
One of the district’s newest schools, the Aiken Scholars Academy, although small in number of students, ranks among South Carolina’s best schools in Advanced Placement performance. The school’s 49 students took 98 AP exams and posted a passage rate of 81%, representing 79 qualifying scores.
“Only 11 of South Carolina’s 205 public high schools had percentages of qualifying scores higher than 80%, and to see one of our own among the very best is very exciting,” Interim Superintendent King Laurence said. “With a team like ours, there are many more accolades and accomplishments to come.”
Statewide SAT data, reflecting the most recent scores of last year’s seniors, shows South Carolina students' average SAT is 1021 and Aiken County’s composite score at 972.
“A student's individual SAT score varies, depending on a number of factors,” said Kate Olin, the district’s director of Accountability and Assessment said. “Looking at the best available score from Aiken County’s Class of 2019 graduates shows a higher composite score of 1016.”
South Aiken High School’s Class of 2019 had the district’s highest SAT composite score of 1063, exceeding the state’s average of 1021 and national average of 1039. Wagener-Salley High School’s SAT math scores increased by more than 10 points over last year’s scores, with scores for last year’s graduates in mathematics rising from 445 to 457.
“Removing the cost to the college-readiness assessment of the SAT and ACT for South Carolina’s students represents an effort to increase opportunities for all students to explore post-secondary options,” said Jeanie Glover, the district's chief officer of Instruction.
In College Board information released Wednesday, 36,430 South Carolina graduates took the ACT assessment with a composite score average of 18.8. Among students from public schools exclusively, there were 33,834 test takers with an average composite score of 18.6.
In Aiken County, the ACT composite score average for 2019 did not change over the 2018 composite score average of 18.1, falling below the state composite score average for all public schools of 18.6.
However, three Aiken County Public Schools – South Aiken High School, North Augusta High School and Wagener-Salley High School – increased their ACT composite score average in 2019, with South Aiken High at 20.1 and North Augusta High at 18.8 posting composite score averages that outpaced the state average for public high schools at 18.6, according to the release. Wagener-Salley High School increased its ACT composite score average from 15.9 in 2018 to 17.0 in 2019.
“Our mean composite score for last year’s seniors most recent attempt at the ACT remained unchanged at 18.1,” Olin said. “Our goal is to see student improvement over time, and that’s just what we’re seeing in the efforts and determination of our graduates, indicated by a higher composite score of 18.3 when looking at each graduate’s best individual ACT score.”