Why SAT Scores Might Be Decreasing

The average SAT scores for the high school class of 2011 fell across the nation, according to the College Board (the creator of the SAT) and an article in the New York Times.

The average, national reading score fell to a record low of 497, a three-point decrease from 2010. The average writing score dropped two points to 489, and the average math score fell one point to 514.

The College Board believes that a more diverse group of students caused this decrease, mainly students whose first language is not English. Nearly 27 percent of the roughly 1.65 million students who took the test came from a home where English is not the only/primary language, which is an increase from 19 percent 10 years ago.

However, others believe that changes in the test caused the decline. Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a nonprofit group that is critical of standardized testing, said he believes the decreases were caused by the nation’s high emphasis on high-stakes testing programs.

These high-stakes programs can add more pressure to the SAT, which could either improve or decrease students’ scores. Also, younger students are taking the SAT, hoping to get a head start on the college process. Traditionally, high school juniors and sophomores do not perform as well on standardized tests as high school seniors.

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Students with only three years of high school English scored an average of 464 on the reading section, compared to an average score of 556 for students who took Advanced Placement or honors English.

Schaeffer also believes that the No Child Left Behind act and other federal education laws have made the tests more difficult.

“How many wake-up calls do policy makers need before they admit that their test-and-punish strategy is a failure?” Schaeffer asked. “Policymakers need to embrace very different policies if they are committed to real education reform.”

The SAT has three sections (math, reading and writing), which are scored from 200-800. The highest possible combined score is 2,400. The combined, average score was 1,500 in 2011, compared to 1,506 in 2010.

The writing section was introduced in 2005, and students’ writing scores have been declining every year since then. However, math and reading scores have remained fairly steady over the past 10 years. Math scores have remained between 520 and 514. Reading scores have averaged between 508 and 499.

Despite the average SAT score decline, the number of high scores is actually increasing. On the math section, the number of students who scored at least 700 out of a possible 800 has increased more than 20 percent since 2007.

The SAT and other standardized tests like the ACT are designed to indicate how well a student will perform during his or her freshman year of college. However, there has been much debate about how accurate that actually is. Many educators have long believed that a student’s high school grades are a better indicator of college grades than standardized tests.

However, the College Board recently tried to create a tangible scale to predict future grades. For the first time, it estimated that the combined score of 1,550 means that students will have a 65 percent chance of averaging at least a B-minus in college. About 43 percent of the Class of 2011 test-takers met that mark.

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