How to apply

Applications for Academic Magnet High and School of the Arts are available online and at each school. The online applications can be found at http://bit.ly/SOKSiO and http://bit.ly/TOx3QS, respectively. The deadline is Dec. 7.

The admissions processes at two of Charleston County’s best magnet schools will be tweaked this year in an effort to make them more fair.

School leaders and parents from Academic Magnet High School and School of the Arts in North Charleston said the changes won’t diminish the quality of either school’s programs or students.

School-based task forces of parents, teachers and community members crafted the recommendations that will go into effect for applicants for the 2013-14 school year. The deadline to apply to both schools is Dec. 7.

Academic Magnet

The core of the admissions process will remain the same. Students earn a score based on four factors: GPA, ACT Explore test results, a written essay and teacher recommendations. The top-scoring students are accepted first.

In the past, students who hadn’t taken the Explore test could submit other test scores, but that no longer will be permissible, said Academic Magnet Principal Judith Peterson.

Explore is a national exam that is a precursor to the ACT college entrance exam and is designed to show students’ strengths and weaknesses by subject.

All Charleston County public school eighth-graders take that test, and the school offered test sessions for those who had not.

“We couldn’t continue to try and compare apples and oranges,” said John Rucker, a parent who served on the task force.

In addition, the school has been ranking students’ Explore test results, so a student scoring in the 99th percentile would earn more points than one in the 87th percentile.

Now, anyone scoring in the 85th percentile or better will receive the same points, because research shows that’s a good benchmark for academic talent, Peterson said.

“It levels the standardized test playing field,” she said. “This does not change or alter in any way the integrity of the program, and that’s what I was really working hard to do.”

Peterson also plans to extend application invitations to the top two or three students at every county middle school. Some schools don’t encourage students to apply to Academic Magnet, and Peterson said she would like to do that.

Those students wouldn’t receive any advantage in the admissions process, but officials hoped the effort might increase the diversity of the student body.

School of the Arts

Each of the school’s eight majors has a slightly different application process, but each has included students’ grades, teacher recommendations, an essay and an audition.

The school’s task force recommended changes in almost every area to make the school more accessible and remove any real or perceived obstacles for admission, said Principal Shannon Cook.

Students used to write an essay about their experience with the arts, and it was intended to give judges more background about them. It wasn’t assigned a point value or used to decide whether to admit students. That essay has been eliminated, Cook said.

In the past, audition judges were School of the Arts faculty only, and they would receive a student’s full application packet. Now, students will be assigned a number, and judges will see only that and their recommendations.

The concern was that some of the information judges were receiving could prejudice them, and this will allow students to be evaluated solely on arts potential, Cook said. Also, judges will include more than faculty.

Students’ grades will be reviewed by officials before the audition. Students are required only to be passing, so students who don’t meet that qualification won’t be allowed to audition.

Students also need to have only two recommendations, one from a teacher and another from an adult, versus the three that were required in the past.

“It’s a simpler process,” Cook said. “Our expectations continue to be high.”

Janet Pitner is a parent of a senior, and she served on the task force that recommended the changes. She said the committee wanted to make sure the admissions process focused on admitting students with the most arts potential.

“All of us parents who have kids, we worked hard to get our kids in there, and we don’t want to do anything to damage its reputation, and I don’t think the changes will do that,” she said.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.