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More Diversity Among 2009 SAT Test-Takers, Scores Slightly Down

Although college-bound high school seniors from the class of 2009 rank as the most racially and ethnically diverse group ever to take the SAT, average scores fell slightly from 2008, according to the College Board. In a report released by the College Board on Tuesday, data revealed that of the 1,530,000 college-bound seniors taking the exam roughly 40 percent were minorities, an increase of nearly 11 percent from a decade ago. Blacks and Hispanics accounted for 12.2 percent and 13.5 percent of the minorities taking the test this year, respectively.

Hispanic students, which include those of Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Latin Caribbean and Latin American descent,  comprise the largest and fastest growing minority student bloc taking the SAT.  In 1999, Hispanics accounted for 7.8 percent of students taking the exam.

The 2009 national average SAT math score of 515 remained unchanged from last year. However, the nation’s average math scores have increased four points overall in the last decade. In contrast, national averages for critical reading (501) and writing (493) each fell a point from their 2008 scores.

This year, average critical-reading scores also fell slightly from the past year for under-represented college-bound minorities. Averages for Blacks (429) and Mexican Americans (453) each dropped a point. Puerto Rican students’ average fell four points to 452. Whites’ average remained unchanged at 528.

Writing scores for under-represented college-bound minorities remained flat or fell slightly from 2008. Blacks had an average score of 421 for the second straight year. Mexican American students’ average dropped a point to 446. Puerto Rican students’ average increased two points to 445. The White-student average rose a point to 518.

Laurence Bunin, senior vice president for operations and the general manager of the SAT Program, said the increase in minority test takers this year pleased the College Board organization.

“Students from all ethnicities are taking the SAT,” Bunin said. “I think they are feeling more confident. It’s a dramatic increase over the past 10 years.”

Bunin said the survey data indicates that students who take rigorous high-school courses, such as Advanced Placement classes, perform well on the SAT. He added that SAT scores can predict college success because students who earn high scores on the exam perform better in college.

“The students who are getting the better curriculum [in high school] are doing better,” Bunin said. 

Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, in an interview with Diverse said national education reform is doing little to boost the college readiness of U.S. students. He said the latest SAT results show only a few students have access to and are mastering college-readiness material. 

“We need a new approach to education reform,” Schaeffer said. “We need to stop one size fits all. We cannot test our way to education quality and equity.”

Nonetheless, Schaeffer said the growing number of minority SAT test-takers provides solid evidence of the rapid U.S. diversification. He cautioned that test scores show a growing performance gap between under-represented college-bound minorities and Whites.

Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson, a senior lecturer in education and policy at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, said standardized tests, such as the SAT and the ACT, can’t effectively measure the achievement gap over time. Although more students, especially minorities, are taking the SAT, the growth in test-takers is reaching deep into the high-school student pool and testing lower-achieving students.

“The numbers are increasing,” Ferguson said. “We need better instruction and better instruction is going to require better leadership. The fact that the scores aren’t going up with the numbers, we have to do more than act on a slogan. We have to prepare students for college.”

Ferguson said schools need to take new approaches to basic subjects and skills development, such as critical reading. For national scores to increase in the critical reading and the writing sections of the SAT, he said teachers must be trained to teach reading comprehension. That will require a different kind of literacy instruction than what schools practice, Ferguson said.

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