Troubling Trends from this Year’s SAT Scores

Each year, the College Board releases figures on the students who took the PSAT, SAT, or AP Exams. While this year’s cohort of test takers were some of the most diverse in history, the figures also point to a disturbing relationship between race, socioeconomic status, and test scores for which the SAT, and standardized testing in general, have often been criticized.

The most apparent trend in this year’s results was the drop in average SAT test scores to historic lows. The average reading score was 495, the average math score was 511, and the average writing score was 484. While these scores are just a few points lower than the respective averages last year, they’re the lowest these scores have been in at least nine years. The reading score, for instance, hasn’t been this low since 1972, when the College Board began issuing its annual report.

SAT Averages Over the Last Three Years:

 

Year Critical Reading Mathematics Writing
2013 496 514 488
2014 497 513 487
2015 495 511 484

 

The College Board attributes some of the dip in performance to a greater diversity of test takers, including many who are not as prepared for college as the less diverse groups of students who took the exam in the past. The College Board president, David Coleman, cited a growing number of students with fee waivers as a sign that more students of low-income families are signing up for and taking the exam.

 

SAT scores continue to track along socioeconomic and racial lines

In addition to the drop in scores, the released data also shows that socio-economic status and race continue to act as indicators of test performance. Wealthy students do much better on the test than do their peers from low-income households, while black and Hispanic students do worse on average than do white and Asian-American students.

The report shows that students from families with a household income of less than $20,000 had the lowest scores while families with a household income greater than $200,000 had the highest. And the gap between these score averages is wide. For example, there was a 137-point difference in the average reading score between these two groups.

Score gaps between racial groups have also grown. White and Asian-American students continue to outperform their black and Hispanic peers. While the average SAT scores for blacks and Hispanics hover in the 400s, white and Asian-American average scores sit closer to the median in the 500s.

However, SAT scores have dropped across all racial groups except for Asian-Americans. For example, the average combined score for Mexican-Americans was 28 points higher in 2006 than it is today, according to records kept by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

 

Changes in Combined SAT Score by Race/Ethnicity:

 

Group Combined Score 2015 Change Since 2006
American Indian 1423 -27
Asian-American 1654 +54
Black 1277 -14
Mexican-American 1343 -28
Puerto Rican 1347 -16
Other Hispanic 1345 -26
White 1576 -6

 

While the College Board acknowledges that more accessible and affordable SAT prep is needed, critics such as the National Center for Fair and Open Testing believe that the test itself is the problem, stating that it is biased and a poor indicator of college success.

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