Those long nights of studying are paying off for high school students in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Education released new data Thursday on SAT scores that shows public school graduates in the commonwealth outperformed students nationwide.
The average score for graduates in Virginia rose four points from 2012 in critical thinking, one point in math and two points in writing.
Now - all the hard work is paying off for test takers.
For Shaarada Srivatsa, now is the time to prepare for college by taking biology and math classes, playing for the school's orchestra and of course, taking the SAT. Srivatsa says the test isn't based on knowledge, but on critical thinking - an area she says teachers have prepared her and her peers for years.
"The type of activities teachers have us do, even before we learn anything, really have to do with like stretching our minds and thinking critically," said Srivatsa, senior at Charlottesville High School.
Students like Srivatsa are to credit for the state-wide test score increase. Srivatsa scored in the 99th percentile on the practice SAT at Charlottesville High School.
Graduating seniors in the state scored significantly higher than public students nationwide in three test sections: reading, math and writing.
"Throughout our entire curriculum in the division, we've had more rigor in our curriculum so I think we will continue to see rises because of a merit of things, not just one factor," said Beth Baptist, director of student services and achievement for Charlottesville City Schools.
Srivatsa says biology teachers have helped her learn how to think critically.
"We were never given a lab sheet, like, "Oh, this is the procedure, do this," we sort of had to come up with our own experiment," said Srivatsa.
There's more good news - 29 percent of Virginia SAT takers were members of student subgroups - African-American, Hispanic and American Indian.
Hispanic participation increased by 7 percent compared with 2012.
Albemarle and Fluvanna County High School seniors also scored higher than students nationwide. To see Fluvanna's numbers, click here. To see Albemarle's, read below.
Albemarle County Public Schools Press Release:
(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Albemarle County Public Schools students again have outperformed their public school peers in Virginia and throughout the nation on the College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), with scores that exceed state and national averages by as much as 15 percent.
High school seniors in Albemarle averaged 565 on the critical reading test compared to a statewide average of 512 and a national average of 491. They scored 559 on average on the mathematics test against average scores of 511 in the state and 503 across the nation. Average writing test scores were 542 in Albemarle, 494 throughout Virginia, and 480 nationally.
"We are very proud of our students and teachers for their exceptional performance," said the division's Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning, Dr. Billy Haun. "Our goal as a school division is to prepare our graduates for lifelong learning success as college students and as valued professionals. These test results validate our emphasis on this priority and are a tribute to the commitment of our teachers and the dedication of our students to achieving excellence in the classroom," he said.
Nationally, the College Board said only 43 percent of seniors who took the SAT test are academically prepared for the rigors of college-level course work. "We consider this a call to action," said College Board president David Coleman. "We must dramatically increase the number of students in K-12 who are prepared for college and careers," he added.
The College Board said that students who meet their College-and-Career Readiness Benchmark are more likely to attend college and complete their degree within four years. Students must earn a combined score of 1550 on the SATs to meet the benchmark. Statewide, 45 percent of students met the benchmark. Albemarle County students had an average combined score of 1666, more than 100 points above the standard.
"Virginia teachers at all grade levels should take pride in the improving performance of our graduating seniors on the SAT," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said. "The long-term trend on the SAT is up as students are challenged by more rigorous standards as they advance through elementary and middle grades to high school, and ultimately graduate better prepared for their first year of college or the workforce," she said.
Dr. Haun said the SAT scores indicate the division's approach to project-based learning and to a curriculum that promotes deeper level thinking and analytical skills are better preparing students for lifelong success. "Our focus on developing 21st century leadership skills among all students means fewer multiple choice tests and more focus on research and problem-solving abilities," he said.
An example of this approach is adding the "4 Cs," collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity skills, to the traditional "3 Rs." The division is piloting a number of new programs to develop these skills among students in all grade levels and will share best practices across all schools, Dr, Haun added.