SAT records biggest score drop in 31 years
Aug. 29, 2006
The high school class of 2006 recorded the sharpest drop in SAT scores in 31
years, a decline that the exam's owner, the College Board, said was partly due
to some students taking the newly lengthened test only once instead of twice.
Fatigue wasn't to blame, the College Board insisted, even though this year's
class was the first to take a new version of the exam which added an essay.
It now takes an average of three hours and 45 minutes to complete the test, not
counting breaks, up from three hours previously.
The results come several months after numerous colleges reported surprisingly
low SAT scores for this year's incoming college freshmen. The nonprofit College
Board, which had said scores would be down this year, released figures Tuesday
showing combined critical reading and math skills fell seven points on average
to 1021. The average critical reading score fell from 508 to 503, while math
dropped from 520 to 518. On the new SAT writing section, the class scored 497 on
average, with girls scoring 11 points higher than boys.
In addition to the new writing section, the exam taken by the class of 2006 had
other new features, including higher-level math and the elimination of
The College Board noted the drop in math scores amounts to one-fifth of one test
question, and the reading to one-half of one question. But over about
1.5 million test-takers such drops are significant, and this was the biggest
year-to-year decline since the class of 1975.
The results come two weeks after it was announced the class of 2006 had posted
the biggest score increase in 20 years on the rival ACT exam. The ACT, which is
also accepted by almost all colleges that require standardized tests, is
generally more focused on material covered in high school classes than the SAT,
which is more of a measure of general ability. But more students in traditional
SAT states like Connecticut and New Jersey appear to be taking both exams to try
to improve their applications to selective colleges.
The initial indication SAT scores were down this year prompted speculation
students may have been tiring out toward the end of the marathon exam.
But in announcing the scores, the College Board said an analysis of 700,000
critical reading and math exams taken in the spring and fall of 2005 showed
students were performing about the same early and late in the exam.
Instead, the College Board explained the drop by saying fewer students were
taking the exam a second time, which typically boosts scores 30 points. The
price of the test has risen from $28.50 to $41.50, though fees are sometimes
Experts say the changeover in exams probably affected how students approached
the test, and thus the scores. Students in the class of 2006 had the chance to
take both the old SAT exam, until midway through their junior year, and the new
SAT after that. If they did well the first time out, some may have opted to
stand pat with those scores. Some colleges continued to accept scores from the
old test during the bridge period.
"When a new test is introduced, students usually vary their test-taking behavior
in a variety of ways and this affects scores," College Board President Gaston
Caperton said in a news release.
On the SAT, boys' scores fell eight points from 513 to 505 in critical reading
and from 538 to 536 in math. Girls' scores fell from 505 to 502 in reading and
from 504 to 502 in math.
Average reading scores for black students rose 1 point from 433 to 434, while
math scores fell two points from 431 to 429.
The College Board lists three categories for Hispanic students. Scores for
Mexican-Americans rose three points overall, Puerto Ricans' fell two points and
scores of students who identified themselves as "Other Hispanic" fell 11 points.