scores hit 8-year low, for good reason, board says
By Justin Pope
The associated Press
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/198680
Combined math and reading SAT scores for the high school class of 2007 were the lowest in eight years — a trend the College Board attributed largely to the good news that a more diverse pool of students is taking the exam.
Last spring's seniors scored on average 502 out of a possible 800 points on the critical reading section of the country's most popular college entrance exam, down from 503 for the class of 2006. Math scores fell three points from 518 to 515.
Scores also fell three points on the writing section, which is still in an experimental stage, from 497 to 494.
Last year, after the College Board lengthened and redesigned the exam, scores took an unusually steep tumble of seven points. This year's further drop could renew questions about whether scores on the new exam are compatible with the old one, as the College Board assured educators would be the case. Scores on the rival ACT exam, reported earlier this month, rose this year.
But the College Board, the nonprofit membership group that owns the exam, insisted Tuesday that the declines were within normal historical fluctuations and not significant.
Officials offered several explanations, but returned repeatedly to the broadening pool of SAT test-takers and subtly characterizing their exam as the more populist of the two tests.
The overall number taking the SAT rose only slightly from last year, to about 1.5 million. But the College Board was eager to emphasize the exam's growth beyond its traditional base of students who have been groomed their whole lives to prepare for college. Twenty-four percent of test-takers had a first language other than English, up from 17 percent a decade ago. Thirty-five percent of this year's SAT takers would be the first in their families to attend college.
Some cities such as Pittsburgh are encouraging more students who aren't on the traditional college ladder to take the exam. Maine now requires all students to take the SAT. The percentage of test takers there rose from 73 percent to 100 percent, but that caused math and reading scores to fall a combined 71 points, by far the largest decline of any state.
"They have taken a very progressive stand in trying to get more and more students to go to college," College Board President Gaston Caperton said of Maine at a news conference Tuesday in Washington. "The larger the population you get to take an examination, it obviously knocks down the scores."
The number of black students taking the SAT rose 6 percent, and the number of test takers calling themselves "Other Hispanic, Latino or Latin American" (a group that does not include Puerto Ricans or Mexican Americans) rose 27 percent.
The College Board noted that by some measures, the gap between some test takers and the overall cohort has narrowed. But it remains large, and there were only mixed improvements among different racial groups.
Search StarNet's database of various school-by-school test scores at azstarnet.com/education