Pendleton High School has touted its sky-high graduation rate in recent years, but its college entrance exam scores need more work.

At a school board meeting Tuesday, PHS Principal Melissa Sandven shared scores from the SAT and ACT, which showed that students were falling behind the pack.

The class of 2018 had a mean score of 524 on the reading and writing test and a 507 in the math test, far below the state mean scores of 563 and 556, respectively.

The 2018 scores represent a backslide from the class of 2017’s scores, and although preliminary data for the class of 2018 shows improvements, they’re still significantly below the means for the state.

The ACT scores were much better, with the percentage of students meeting the ACT’s college readiness benchmark right around the state average. But only 27 students from the class of 2018 took the test, and Sandven noted that the students who take the ACT tend to be applying for top colleges and competitive scholarships.

Sandven said she’s heard theories for the low scores, like Pendleton encouraging more students to take the SAT while others district are more selective or some Pendleton students taking the test just to gain access to a certain scholarship.

But given that it’s still her first year at Pendleton High School, Sandven said she needs more time to investigate.

The high school offers free practice SATs for sophomores, free SATs for juniors, SAT vocabulary review in core classes, and resources through ASPIRE and the library, but Sandven said the school could look into an SAT prep course.

Sandven said its been apart of all the schools she’s worked at previously, but local staff members told her previous efforts were cut short when the afterschool course conflicted with extracurricular activities.

Some board members suggested finding some way to integrate a SAT prep course into the school day to avoid this conflict.

Board member Debbie McBee said she remembers years when SAT scores hovered in the 400s, but she also encouraged district staff to raise the overall level of academic vigor, which could better prepare students for the test and help ease the transition between high school and college.

“We have a lot of kids still who drop out of college in their first semester or their first year because it’s just too big a leap from high school to college for what we prepare them for,” she said.

Sandven said she also wants Advanced Placement teachers to encourage students to take the accompanying exam, which has seen a downturn in participation in recent years.

After some board members said it may take some time to change the culture around test taking, Superintendent Chris Fritsch cautioned against pointing fingers.

“What (staff members) do, their attitude and direction, is going to be based on the leadership and the model that they get,” he said. “You can’t fault anyone who’s never been asked to do something. If they’ve never been asked, you can’t been too critical.”

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