ACT scores of South Carolina's high school graduates improved modestly in 2008, according to test results released Tuesday.
It marks the fifth straight year of improved scores on the college entrance exam, which tests high school students in math, English, reading and science.
State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex commended students and noted the Palmetto State's scores are improving faster than the national average.
"The national composite score has fluctuated over the past five years compared to our steady increases," Rex said. "I said before that we needed to improve at a faster rate to be competitive. That's exactly what we've done."
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Locally, York County high schools' ACT scores are mixed, as some saw gains while others dipped.
York Comprehensive High's average composite score continued to rise, hopping a tenth of a percentage point to 19.2. The score has climbed yearly since 2005 when it was 18.1.
Fort Mill High's average score jumped to 22.1 from 21.7 the year before. That's higher than this year's national average of 21.1.
Northwestern, Rock Hill and Clover high schools saw scores drop.
While most schools had more students take the test than in previous years, Rock Hill and Northwestern high schools had fewer students take it.
That could be related to smaller senior classes, said Tara Schoenfuss, a guidance counselor at Northwestern High. When South Pointe High opened in 2005, it pulled students from the other two Rock Hill high schools.
"When you drop 200 kids, you have a lot less test-takers," Schoenfuss said.
The 2008 average composite score for the state's high school seniors was 19.9 on the ACT's 36-point scale. Last year, seniors averaged 19.6.
Still, South Carolina scored below the U.S. average of 21.1.
Randy Page, president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, an organization that supports allowing parents to send their children to schools of their choosing, including private schools, said the scores show a disturbing gap between black and white students.
Average ACT composite scores for the state's white students increased two-tenths of a point to 21.7. Meanwhile, African-American students' average scores went up one-tenth to 16.4.
"For South Carolina to grow, for the economy to grow, we've got to make sure that gap doesn't exist," Page said. "Unfortunately, today's ACT scores reveal it's still there."
While most S.C. students take the SAT, about 44 percent take the ACT.
Last year, the number of ACT test-takers in South Carolina dipped by 200 students but has still increased nearly 25 percent since 2004.
Here's a look at how area high schools performed on the ACT in recent years. The chart shows the average composite score for each year.
York Comprehensive High
Northwestern High 2008 21
Rock Hill High 2008 19.4
South Pointe High 2008 19.5
Fort Mill High 2008 22.1
Chester Senior High 2008 17.5
Great Falls High 2008 16.6
Lewisville High 2008 17.7
2005 19.8 2004 19.7
-- State Department of Education