SAT Scores Drop Slightly As More Students Take Test

By Staff
August 26, 2009

A report released this week by the College Board indicates that a record 1.53 million high school students took the SAT in 2009 and the average score dropped slightly. But troubling score gaps widened between males and females, and students of different ethnic groups and family incomes.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the average SAT scores in 2009 were 501 on the critical reading section, 515 on the mathematics section and 493 in writing. The mathematics score was the same as it was in 2008, while the critical reading and writing scores each dropped by one point. Students can receive 200 to 800 points on each section.

And while the scores appear to be fairly steady, the slight drop is significant: The Wall Street Journal points out that the combined scores are the lowest this decade, and the reading scores are the worst since 1994.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, noted in the report that scores often decrease when a larger, more diverse pool of students take the test. Since the rate of minority participation was at 40 percent--up from 38 percent the year before--the relative stability was portrayed as a positive development.

"We are tremendously encouraged by the increasing diversity," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, who was quoted in USA Today. "More than ever, the SAT reflects the diversity of students in our nation's classrooms."

But Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, pointed out that the report showed "widening gaps of all sorts--race, gender and income--at a time when the nation is spending billions of dollars allegedly trying to close those gaps."

The differences in SAT scores were most pronounced between Asian students, who scored an average of 1623 out of 2400, and black students, who averaged 1276. The national average was 1509.

Meanwhile, black students had the lowest average combined mathematics and critical reading score, 855, while white students had an average combined score of 1,064. Moreover, students with a reported family income of more than $200,000 saw their average combined score increase 26 points to 1702 since last year. Meanwhile, students who reported family incomes of less than $20,000 a year averaged 1321--a gain of only one point.

College Board officials downplayed the gaps. "I think what you're really seeing is the gaps are increasing for students who have better preparation," said Wayne Camera, the College Board's vice president of research and development, who was quoted in the Chronicle.

But other officials viewed the results as discouraging. "This is a nearly unrelenting tale of woe and disappointment," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Washington, D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who was quoted in the Journal. "If there's any good news here, I can't find it."

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