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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- As usual, the small but generally high-achieving group of Utah students taking the SAT did well this year.
But this time, public education officials had something new to crow about: Public-school students taking the test got better scores than those from private schools.
Critics say that may be because a larger percentage of private-school students take the test.
Most Utah college-bound students take the ACT instead of the SAT because Utah's colleges and universities use the ACT. The Utah students taking the SAT mostly are headed for prestigious out-of-state schools.
The Utah students' performance on this year's SAT was 565 on the verbal portion, compared with the national score of 508, and 556 on the math, compared with the national score of 518.
The Utah results were down one and three points from last year's verbal and math scores, respectively. Nationally, verbal scores rose on point and math scores fell one point.
This year, the College Board provided a breakdown on scores from public schools and private schools. Nationally, private-school test-takers boosted the verbal score by four points but pulled down the math score by five points.
However, Utah's scores rise 22 points on verbal and 23 points in math if private school scores are omitted, the state Office of Education said Tuesday.
"Students who take the SAT generally have high academic aspirations. We're very pleased with these numbers that confirm Utah's public schools are still a great place to start, even when you're aiming at an Ivy League education," Associate State Superintendent Christine Kearl said.
Mike Jerman, vice president of the business-backed Utah Taxpayers Association and advocate for private school tuition tax credits, said, "The way this is presented is certainly misleading, because participation rates are not being accounted for."
A higher proportion of Utah private school students take the exam.
The College Board said 1,200 of the 2,100 Utah test-takers were in public schools. Private schools enroll just 3 percent of Utah's school-age children.
At Rowland Hall-St. Mark's private school in Salt Lake City, everybody -- "our very top (students) and everyone else" -- takes the SAT, headmaster Alan Sparrow said.
"Is this a shot across the bow against private schools or tuition tax credits? That could be the case," Jerman said.
Tuition tax credits have become a hot political issue. Advocates say the credits would open educational choice to all parents. Public schools oppose them as a drain on public school budgets.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)