CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools celebrated gains in SAT scores released Thursday, a possible indicator that last year s seniors were better prepared for college.

However, it wasn t clear how much of the gain came from a shift to the ACT, another college-readiness exam that can be used for admission. In previous years, most college-bound students in North Carolina took the SAT, but in 2012, all juniors took the ACT as part of the state s new testing and accountability program.

SAT participation declined statewide and in CMS. Lower participation often translates to higher average scores, especially if marginal students opt out.

Whatever the cause, the CMS average on the SAT, which tests critical reading, math and writing, rose 10 points, to 1473 out of a possible 2400. Reading and writing scores rose while math stayed flat.

Superintendent Heath Morrison said CMS has provided a free SAT program called Triumph and trained principals to encourage SAT participation and boost performance.

We are pleased to see these increases in our scores because we are placing a very strong emphasis on preparing every student for these important college-admissions requirements, Morrison said.

The CMS average was less than the state average (1479, up 10 points) and national average (flat at 1498). But those averages include public and private schools. CMS topped the state average for public schools by eight points, and was just one point below the national average for public schools.

It s kind of exciting to see that we re making progress, but our bar isn t just public schools but every school, Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes said.

Wake County Schools had a higher participation rate than CMS and a significantly higher average, 1572. In the Charlotte region, Iredell-Statesville (1528) and Union County (1524) had the highest averages.

In Mecklenburg County, school averages ranged from 1688 at CMS Providence High to 1052 at Crossroads Charter, which targets at-risk students.

As usual, CMS schools in the county s more affluent areas, such as Providence, Ardrey Kell and Myers Park, topped the SAT list. Cato Middle College High, a small CMS school for juniors and seniors at Central Piedmont Community College s northeast Charlotte campus, also landed near the top of the list, along with Lake Norman and Queens Grant charter schools. Charters are alternative public schools that don t report to local districts.

Crossroads and Kennedy charter schools, both of which serve students who have struggled in traditional schools, had the lowest averages. In CMS, West Charlotte, Garinger and West Mecklenburg, neighborhood high schools with high poverty levels, had the lowest SAT scores.

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