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Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools rank at top for SAT scores in the state

A Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools bus drives toward Chapel Hill High School.

A Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools bus drives toward Chapel Hill High School.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has the highest SAT scores of any district in North Carolina.

The school system saw nearly 70 percent of the senior class take the SAT, and the average score across the district’s three high schools was 1287 out of 1600. East Chapel Hill High School narrowly beat out Chapel Hill High School and Carrboro High School with an average score of 1301, the highest of any public school in the state.

A press release on Sept. 26 noted the 1287 average is the highest in the history of the school system — students improved 27 points from last year, and scores have increased by 82 points over the past three years.

In neighboring Orange County Schools, 51.2 percent of seniors took the SAT, averaging a score of 1159, about 10 percent lower than the CHCCS average. Cedar Ridge High School’s SAT average was 62 points above Orange High School’s.

“I want to attribute the hard work of our students, the wonderful teachers that they have, the commitment of the parents, and it’s a community that is very invested in the success of our students,” said Jeff Nash, the executive director of community relations for CHCCS.

However, the increase in SAT scores in CHCCS may have something to do with the rise of the ACT as a viable alternative to the SAT in the college admissions process.

North Carolina administers the ACT to all 11th graders in the state as part of the statewide school accountability program.

The ACT and SAT originally existed in separate geographic areas, with the ACT more prominent in the Midwest and the SAT more widely accepted on the East and West coasts.

However, starting as early as 2007, all four-year colleges that require standardized testing for admissions began accepting the ACT. Students in North Carolina public schools are finding themselves in a position in which they do not need to take the SAT to apply to four-year colleges in the U.S.

In North Carolina, participation in the SAT among public school students has dropped from 70 percent in 2004 to 45.7 percent in 2019 — at the same time as participation rates have fallen, average scores have increased.

Across all three high schools in CHCCS, 46.9 percent of 11th grade students who took the ACT this year met all five (English, math, reading, science and writing) statewide benchmarks on the ACT. East Chapel Hill High, Carrboro High and Chapel Hill High are all in the top 10 high schools to meet all five benchmarks, with Carrboro High scoring just slightly higher than the other two.

Performance on the SAT can also be attributed to factors outside of the school system. In Chapel Hill, 75 percent of adults 25 years or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and Carrboro is close behind with 68 percent of adults of the same age meeting that target. Both rates are more than twice the national and state averages.

“One of the things we benefit from is just having a highly educated community,” CHCCS school board member James Barrett said. “Our parents have more college degrees than most other communities around the state and country.”

He also said the availability of rigorous coursework, including Advanced Placement and honors classes, and funding for strong school counseling support plays a role in supporting students through graduation.

“I think it's an entire community focused on education and the value of education and our students are clearly doing great things and going on to do great things,” Barrett said. “We celebrate that every day.”

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