by Tori Hamby

Less than half of high school seniors nationwide are prepared for college and students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools aren’t faring much better, according to this year’s national report on SAT scores.

SAT score data from this year show that total average scores declined at two of the area’s three traditional public schools. Scores declined by 72 points at Hopewell High and 92 points at North Mecklenburg High between 2011 and 2012.

Scores declined across Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina and the U.S. for the third consecutive year. The most severe test score declines were reported in CMS’ low-income area schools, including West Charlotte High School.

CMS acknowledged the score declines in a statement.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said the state’s new Common Core Standards – the recently adopted classroom curriculum that began at the start of the school year – should boost scores.

“We pay close attention to these results because they are one indicator of our students’ readiness for college-level work,” she said. “We think that rigor in the new Common Core standards will help us get these scores moving upward.”

The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, measures a student’s reading, math and writing skills. College admissions officials use scores to predict how successful a student will be at the college level, according to The College Board. High schools do not require students to take the SAT.

The College Board set a “benchmark” total score of 1,550 out of a maximum 2,400 points for 2012. Students who score at or above a 1,550 are predicted to have academic success in college. Hough High School was the only north Mecklenburg school to report an average score above the benchmark with a score of 1,562.

Only 43 percent of seniors nationwide are “college ready,” according to The College Board’s 2012 SAT Report on College and Career Readiness. The report states that students who met the benchmark score were more likely to have completed a core curriculum – similar to North Carolina’s new Common Core Standards.

“These results illustrate the need for common standards that will enable all students to develop the core competencies critical to college and career success,” the report said.

Test participation rates also dipped, although CMS’ 67.5 percent participation rate was in the range of comparably-sized districts.

Hough High logged the highest score among area traditional schools. Last year marked the first year that Hough High graduated a senior class, so no previous scores were available.

Charter schools, with their focus on college preparation, made notable gains. Students at Pine Lake Preparatory in Mooresville earned an average total score of 1,612, the highest average score of any school in the Lake Norman region. Lake Norman Charter’s average total score jumped from 1,557 to 1,594, while Lincoln Charter’s score increased from 1,474 to 1,546.

Students at charter schools were also more likely to take the SAT, with some schools such as Lake Norman Charter and Pine Lake Prep reporting 100 percent participation rates, in addition to the region’s highest scores.