MADISON – Even though a Madison Area Memorial High School class was preparing for an Advanced Placement exam about government one day recently, the mood was light.

Devin Steuber, 17, of Madison, asked teacher Barbara Moody if she was nervous about her students taking the test, for which they could earn college credit.

“Oh, yeah, wicked,” Moody said.

“Are you more worried about Krysta taking the test or me?” he joked to laughter that Krysta Moulton, 18, of Athens, would have difficulty on the exam.

The class is just one in which Moulton excels at a school that has received statewide attention for its lack of improvement on standardized test scores.

Moulton is valedictorian and class president, and will attend Harvard University next year. She said she dreams of working for the FBI and serving in Congress.

In the last three years alone, she’s won 13 school, state and national awards related in some way to her studies. She’s been involved with 10 high school activities and sports and has volunteered for nine community service causes. She’s also held down a job at a child care center in Cornville.

Moulton is graduating at a time when the school district is grappling with how to address the decline of students’ test scores. For the last two years, the district has been named to a list of the top 10 persistently low-achieving schools in Maine, based on the previous three years of SAT scores.

The designation makes the school eligible for federal funding to help turn around its student achievement. It must submit its grant application by June 1.

Just 25 percent of Madison high school students last year met or exceeded standards in math, compared to 46 percent of high school students statewide, according to the Maine Department of Education. In reading, 28 percent met or exceeded standards, compared to 48 percent statewide.

If Moulton is an example of a high-achieving student, then it doesn’t matter where you come from, but how hard you’re willing to work.

“Krysta is probably the most self-motivated learner I’ve ever taught in my teaching career,” said Moody, who’s been teaching for 33 years. “She makes teaching easy.”

Moulton’s background is not unusual. She was raised in a town of 830 people, and her grandparents were farmers. Her mother, Tammy, is a teacher at Athens Elementary School. Her father, Nathan, is the director of the rail program at the Maine Department of Transportation. They divorced when Moulton was 6.

She has one older sister, Kassie, 22, who recently graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a major in sustainable agriculture.

So what instilled Moulton’s drive to earn a grade average of 100.06 out of 100 at the beginning of the school year, set the school record in the race walk several times, and participated in special experiences like the United States Senate Youth Program in Washington D.C.?

She said the biggest key to her success is not the school she attends — it’s her parents.

“My parents have always instilled in me, if you want something, you have to work hard to achieve it.

“For me, college has always been a requirement,” she said. “I think my upbringing more than anything else influenced who I am and who I’m going to become.”

What does this mean for schools like the one in Madison that have below-average growth on exams like the SAT?

“Of course it’s got to be a concerted effort,” said Rachelle Tome, Elementary and Secondary Education Act federal programs director at the education department. “It goes to habits of mind, and that actually starts in the early grades.”

But it is possible to motivate students at the high school level, she said. It requires setting high expectations and having a structure that helps students set and meet goals.

Just because some parents play strong roles in their children’s academic life, doesn’t mean students can’t be successful if parents aren’t as involved.

“It takes a village,” Tome said.For Krysta Moulton, the biggest key to success is not school the attends — it’s her parents.