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SLIDESHOW: Finding West Virginia's best high schools

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What are the best high schools in West Virginia?

Someone trying to answer that question could look at a lot of different factors — class offerings, percentage of students going on to college and graduation rates. Heck, some people just look at the record of the high school's football or basketball team.

But standardized test scores tend to be a pretty good gauge, too. And when it comes to tests, one of the biggest ones is the ACT. That test, which includes sections on English, math, reading and science, is one of two primary college entrance exams. It, along with the SAT, is given to high school juniors and seniors to test their college aptitude.

"(Looking at test scores) is about the only way for college admissions to level the playing field," said Jamie Dickenson, a certified educational planner based in Charleston. She said curriculum, grading systems and other variables differ dramatically among schools in West Virginia, not to mention among states.

The State Journal analyzed information from the West Virginia Department of Education about average ACT composite test scores in 2012 from each of the state's 129 high schools. What the data showed were some big differences.

The school with the highest average ACT composite score was George Washington High School in Kanawha County. The 206 students who took the ACT in 2012 had an average score of 23.7. A perfect score on the ACT is 36. On the flip side, seven schools had average scores below 17. In most of those cases, only a handful of students at the high schools even took the test.

To get in to West Virginia University or Marshall University, the state's two largest universities, a high school student must at least earn a 19 composite on his ACT test. In 2012, 105 high schools had average scores of 19 or higher.

But to get the Promise Scholarship, a student must earn a 22 or better with a score of at least 20 in all four sections. In West Virginia, only eight high schools — George Washington High School, the old Williamson High School in Mingo County, Paw Paw High School in Morgan County, Bridgeport High School in Harrison County, University Collaborative School in Kanawha County, Hurricane High School in Putnam County, Nitro High School in Kanawha County and Frankfort High School in Mineral County — had average composite scores at that level.

To see which schools performed the best on the ACT last year, click on the slideshow.

SAT results, which are administered by The College Board, were not available at the high school level.