This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

Caldwell County high-school students’ average SAT scores rose this year – and fewer students took the test, likely because North Carolina now mandates the rival ACT exam.

The average combined score, which includes scores on the math, critical reading and writing sections of the SAT, increased by 39 points in Caldwell County this year. The county’s 2013 average of 1,474 rose from 1,435 in 2012 and 1,441 in 2011.

Fewer students – 46.2 percent – took the SAT this year, down from 54.6 percent in 2012 and 53.2 percent in 2011.Caldwell students did best in math, scoring an average of 505 on that section of the test, compared to 495 on critical reading and 474 on writing.

North Carolina started administering the ACT to all high-school juniors last year; it is one of just nine states to do so. Both local and statewide administrators have attributed the drop in students taking the SAT to that change.

“The ACT is now mandated for every 11th-grader and since many colleges will take that, for kids who get a good score, there is really no reason to take the SAT,” Caldwell County Superintendent Steve Stone said.

Statewide, as in Caldwell County, SAT scores increased and fewer students were taking the test. North Carolina’s average combined score increased by 10 points to 1479 this year, with an 8.2 percent drop in the number of students taking the test.

In Caldwell County, scores were highest at the Caldwell Career Center Middle College – which also had the smallest percentage of students taking the SAT. Six students (or 14.3 percent) took the exam, down from 40 percent in 2012. The average combined score rose to 1,621, up from 1,414 in 2012.

Hibriten High School was the only school in the county where scores dropped and where more students took the test. Hibriten had an average combined SAT score of 1,406, down from 1,455 in 2012 and 54.3 percent of students took the test, up slightly from 53.2 percent in 2012.

Students at Caldwell Early College High School had an average combined score of 1,590, with 46.3 percent of students taking the test. In 2012, 62.3 percent of students took the test and had an average combined score of 1,544.

South Caldwell High had an average combined SAT score of 1,535, up from 1,437 in 2012. Fewer students took the test – 49.8 percent, down from 51.8 percent in 2012.

West Caldwell High School had the lowest average combined score – 1343, up from 1313 in 2012. Fewer students took the test there as well, dropping from 59.9 percent in 2012 to 41.6 percent this year.

North Carolina’s ACT scores were the lowest in the country this year, reflecting the fact that all students are now taking the test. Before it was required, North Carolina’s ACT scores were higher than the national average.

Caldwell students’ average SAT score is lower than the average score of admitted freshmen at some universities in the UNC system and higher than the average score at others.

The 2012 freshman class at UNC-Chapel Hill had the highest scores – an average of 1,938, 464 points higher than Caldwell’s average.

Fayetteville State University’s 2012 freshmen had the lowest average scores. Their average of 1,258 was 216 points lower than Caldwell County students’.