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SAT Report Reveals Sharp Decline in Average Scores, Test-takers


African-Americans posted the lowest scores in the reading, writing and math portions of the newly expanded SAT, which saw its lowest number of test-takers since 1991, according to a report released Tuesday by the College Board on the performance of the high school class of 2006.

Math and reading scores plummeted by 7 points overall, representing the largest annual change in three decades. The average critical reading score decreased by 8 points for males and by 3 points for females. The average combined math score dropped by 2 points for both males and females.

“When a new test is introduced, students usually vary their test-taking behavior in a variety of ways, and this affects scores,” says Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, about the decrease in SAT scores. College Board officials attribute the drop in scores to a decline in the number of students who re-took the test. Retakes generally result in a 30-point improvement.

Of the 3 million students who graduated high school in 2006, just 48 percent took the SAT. There was a 0.2 percent increase in the number of minorities who took the test compared to the year before. Minorities this year comprised 38 percent of the total test takers.

Thanks in part to the new writing section, females closed the gender gap to 26 points. Last year, the combined SAT score showed a 42-point gap between males and females. The average score on the writing section was 497, with females outscoring males by 11 points across all racial and ethnic groups. Males outperform females in the critical reading section in all races, except for Blacks, where females scored 7 points higher than males.

Blacks still score the lowest across the board on critical reading (434), math (429) and writing (428). Whites scored, on average, the highest in critical reading (527) and writing (519) while Asians scored the highest in mathematics (528). Still, the reading score for Whites represented a significant decline. In fact, non-Mexican Hispanics and Whites showed the largest declines in critical reading, down 5 points each, to 458 and 527, respectively.

The critical reading scores of Black and Mexican American students improved by 1 point over last year, to 434 and 454, respectively. Mexican Americans increased their math score by 2 points, to 465. 

An analysis of SAT scores in relation to socioeconomic status reveals that family income and parents’ education have a significant impact on scores. As a general rule, the more income a student’s family has, the higher the critical reading, mathematics and writing score will be. On average, for every level of parental education — high school, undergraduate or graduate degree — a student will score 33.5 points higher in writing, 31.5 points in mathematics, and 35 points in critical reading than the average student.

According to testing reform advocates at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), this year’s decline in average SAT scores further illustrates the credibility problems faced by the College Board.

FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer says the College Board has claimed that SAT scores are a “common yardstick” that could be used to compare high school classes.

“[College Board] assured test-takers and admissions offices that scores from their ‘new’ SAT would be consistent with the previous version. Now they have to explain how and why the revised exam led to lower scores,” Schaeffer says, adding that the decline in test-takers reflects widespread dissatisfaction with the new SAT.

“More and more students are convinced that the ‘new’ SAT is a pointless, high-priced marathon that does not accurately assess their ability to do college work,” he says. “We expect the number of schools adopting test optional admissions policies to continue growing.”

Among other findings, public school students did not score as well as private and religiously affiliated schools. Private schools scored the highest, averaging scores of 544 in critical reading, 573 in mathematics and 550 in writing.

-Olivia Pullmann and Shilpa Banerji


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