SAT Scores Drop to Lowest Levels in a Decade

SAT Scores Drop to Lowest Levels in a Decade

Students take their seats for the diploma ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge
© Brian Snyder / Reuters
By Millie Dent

Student scores on the SAT have slipped to the lowest level in 10 years, according to new statistics from the College Board, again raising questions about education-reform efforts meant to improve student performance in high schools.  

Just under 1.7 million students took the test this year, more than ever before. Only 41.9 percent of them reached the “SAT Benchmark” score of 1550, which indicates whether an individual is prepared for college or a career. Based on the SAT’s measure, more than 1 million students are not ready for college or for work.

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The average score for high-schoolers in the class of 2015 was 1490 out of a possible 2400, down 7 points from last year. The three sections of the test — reading, writing, and math — all saw declines of at least two points. 

As has been the pattern for years, certain demographic groups performed better than others. Whites and Asians, on average, received higher scores than blacks and Latinos. Students from higher-earning families received higher scores than those from families with lower income. But scores among all demographic groups except for Asians went down.

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The low scores are an indication that improved testing scores for elementary school students aren’t translating to gains by high-schoolers. The stark contrast in scores among racial and ethnic groups may also be a sign of systemic problems that remain a barrier to educational success. Since 2006, the scores among white students have fallen six points, pulling the average down to 1,576. The average scores for black students have dropped 14 points to 1,277.

The College Board plans to introduce a new SAT exam next year. Changes will include more of a focus on math, fewer questions on vocabulary words and an elimination of the penalty for guessing. The idea, the College Board has said, is to make the test more about what students learn in high school and the skills that college will require. 

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