MANATEE -- Manatee County School District high school seniors exceeded state and national averages on the SAT this year.
While state and national averages in all three test subjects -- critical reading, math and writing -- were either stagnant or down this year from 2012, Manatee seniors improved their overall scores in each portion of the Standardized Admission Test.
The district did not have a student with perfect scores in all three test subjects, but three students scored a perfect 800 in math, and two students scored 800 in critical reading.
Anna Trinci, a Manatee High School senior, is one of four MHS students recognized as a National Merit Commended Student. Four more at Manatee High are National Merit Scholar Semifinalists.
Trinci was recognized for scoring among the top 50,000 students in the state on the preliminary SAT. Trinci also earned a notable SAT score of a 2220.
"I wanted to do well so I could stand out," Trinci said. "It is the byproduct of having good teachers."
Trinci said the reading and writing sections are the easiest for her. She has advice for students who struggle in that area.
"I would say to read as much as you can of what engages you," Trinci said. "People underestimate how much practice does make a difference in reading."
The average critical reading score for Manatee County 12th-graders this year was 508, up from 487 last year. The state average for critical reading last year and this year was 492, and the national average was 496.
Scores for each SAT section range from 200 to 800.
The average SAT math score for Manatee County seniors was 504, an improvement from 483 last year. The state average for math this year was 490.
Manatee County seniors also improved on the writing portion by scoring an average of 492. The state average for the writing portion dropped this year from 501 to 475.
While national averages did not increase over the past year, the number of tests with perfect scores did. According to the College Board, 494 students in the nation scored a perfect 2400, up from 360 perfect scores last year.
Trinci said the key to a high SAT score is to relax.
"I think people who tend to score higher really have their wits about them when they're testing," Trinci said. "I've noticed that when I have anxiety is when I got lower scores. It is easy to put so much weight on one test in one sitting and convince yourself that it determines your whole future."
Trinci also recommends students become familiar with the outline and format of the test before taking it.
A student's strategy
Theresa Polly, also a National Merit Commended Student from Manatee High, suggests students plan a time management strategy before taking the test.
"Take a couple practice tests to get used to the timing so you won't feel as rushed," Polly said.
Polly, who hopes to attend either the University of Florida or Embry-Riddle for aeronautical engineering, realizes not all of her peers plan on attending college. Still, she recommends everyone take either the SAT or the ACT.
"I have friends that didn't do so well on the SAT that got high scores on the ACT," Polly said. "I would say to take both. Everyone is typically better suited for one or the other."
Polly also recommends getting a head start on the preliminary SAT. Although student do not qualify for National Merit until they are in their junior year, Polly said she took the preliminary SAT her freshman and her sophomore years to become more comfortable with the test.
Steve Valley, spokesman for the Manatee County School District, said the district's improvement in scores is, in part, a result of more students taking the SAT.
"The scores are good because it used to be that only the elite students took the SAT," Valley said. "Now because it can be used as a graduation concordant score for the FCAT, more students are taking the test who may not have taken it in the past."
According to the Florida Department of Education, a student can also graduate by receiving a score comparable to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test passing score on either the ACT or SAT.
FCAT concordant scores were set in 2003, updated in 2009 and again in January. For sophomores, scores of a 19 for the reading portion of the ACT or a 430 for the critical reading portion of the SAT may be used to satisfy the graduation requirement of a passing score of a 245 on the FCAT reading.
Scores in Sarasota
In the Sarasota County School District, SAT scores were also higher than national and state averages in all three sections. The average critical reading score for Sarasota seniors was 522, average math score was 523 and average writing score was 499.
"I think everything we do as a school district pushes for a specific outcome," said Steve Cantees, executive director of high schools for the Sarasota County School District. "We are definitely proud of our SAT scores. It's an outcome we expect because of the work that we do."
Cantees said a master scheduling committee meets monthly in the Sarasota County School District to discuss placing students in the right classes according to their potential.
"It all starts in the scheduling process," Cantees said. "If you don't identify students who have potential to be successful in high-rigor programs, then you are going to shortchange the district and the kids."
Cantees said SAT scores tend to outshine FCAT scores because the FCAT is mandatory and the SAT is voluntary.
"You have a different type of student taking the SAT than the student that struggles on the FCAT," Cantees said. "We still have a lot of students that take advantage of the SAT and the ACT even if they didn't pass the FCAT, but that is not a huge drag on SAT scores."
A total of 1,660,047 U.S. students took the SAT in 2013, including 112,554 in Florida.
The SAT is offered seven times per year. Test dates can be found on the college board website. The College Board recommends students take the SAT in the spring of their junior year and again in the fall of their senior year.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081