DES MOINES — Iowa’s 2006 high school graduates continued to improve on the SATs. But the SATs — one brand of standardized test colleges look at when choosing students — are not the student test of choice statewide or locally.

Iowa SAT participation was about 1,500 students (about 4 percent of graduates) compared to the 65 percent of Iowa graduates who take the ACT college prep exam.

The trend is reflected in Fairfield, where most students took the ACTs. Last year, 94 out of 163 graduating Fairfield High School seniors took them. Fewer — around 10 — took the SATs, said Karen Swanson, guidance counselor.

And though she didn’t have specific scores, she said “our students who take the SATs do well.”

There may be a reason for that: Ivy League schools like Harvard require students to take the SAT. And students who are considering Harvard tend to be higher-achieving students.

Besides, the SATs and ACTs can be divided by looking at a map. For the most part, schools in the Midwest ask for the ACT. Schools on the coasts generally ask for the SAT.

“Most of our students stay in the Midwest,” Swanson said.

Davis County Superintendent Anne Morgan said her students tend to stay close to home, too, meaning the ACT would be their test of choice.

With around 85 graduating seniors each year, usually only one or two will take the SAT, added Mark Warren, a Davis County guidance counselor.

“And some years, none,” he said.

Still, Swanson’s research indicates the ACTs are really catching on, and are being accepted at more colleges, some of which now accept both.

And as more schools begin to accept ACT scores, added Warren, “there just isn’t the motivation to take SATs. Even Notre Dame will take the ACTs.”

Besides, he said, the ACT is more like the standardized tests Iowa students have taken through there entire K-12 career, meaning it’s a more comfortable test.

But improvements in all college entrance exams, including the SATs, is good news, Swanson said. Especially as Iowa high schools work to increase rigor to prepare students for an increasingly competitive work world.

“That high school movement to reform and improve is definitely being shown in higher scores on both SATs and ACTs. It is early in our reform but that is looking to be the trend,” she said.

“We are pleased that a high percentage of students take at least one of the college entrance exams, because it means a large number are planning to continue their education,” said Gov. Tom Vilsack in a press release through the Iowa Department of Education. “To compete in the global economy of the 21st century, additional education or training beyond high school is essential.”

On the SAT exam in Iowa, reading scores improved to 602 from 596 last year, and math scores improved to 613 from 608. In addition, the average Iowa score was 591 on the writing section, a recent addition to the test.

The 2006 U.S. average reading score was 503, the math score was 518, and writing score was 497. The highest possible score is 800 in each category.

Mark Newman can be reached at 683-5358 or by e-mail at mgnewman@mchsi.com.

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