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College Board Reports Low SAT Scores for High School Class of 2011

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Considering that President Obama wants to drastically increase the number of Americans with college degrees by 2020, new data released last week by the College Board is rather disappointing.

Just 43 percent of the college-bound high school students that took the standardized exam met the SAT College and Career Readiness benchmark, a tool that was created to gauge “college and career readiness” of groups of students.

What is the SAT?

The SAT Reasoning Test, which is owned, created and published by the College Board, is a standardized exam intended to assess students’ readiness for college. Its name and scoring system have changed several times since the exam was first introduced in 1926.

Despite growing criticism from educators and administrators, coupled with a decline in the number of schools that require the exam, the SAT is still necessary for admission to many colleges and universities.

Average SAT scores for the graduating high school class of 2011 dropped in all three subject areas: math, writing, and reading. Reading scores were the lowest on record and combined reading and math scores were at their lowest since 1995, reports CNN.

National Average SAT Scores Dropping

The current version of the SAT was introduced in 2005. It is comprised of three 800-point sections—math, critical reading, and writing. Prior to 2005, writing was part of an optional writing “subject test.” The SAT Benchmark score mentioned above, developed by the College Board, is a 1550 combined reading, math and writing score.

Although the College Board claims that earning a combined SAT score of 1550 indicates a 65% likelihood of having a B- or higher average during the freshman year of college, a GPA that typically leads to a successful college career and subsequent graduation, the non-profit organization is also quick to point out that not meeting the Benchmark shouldn’t discourage students from pursuing college because many other factors also determine a student’s academic success.

The 2011 average math score of 514 reflected a one point drop from 2010, while the average writing score declined by two points and reading dropped by three. The Washington Post points out that the numbers seem even worse when compared to average scores from 2006, the year after the writing section was added to the exam. Since then, average scores have dropped four points in math, eight points in writing, and six points in reading. Average SAT reading scores in 1972 were more than 20 points higher than today.

Most Diverse Group of SAT Takers in History

The College Board reports that more college-bound students from the graduating high school class of 2011 took the SAT than any other graduating class in history. Roughly 1.65 million students from the class of 2011 took the exam.

“The SAT is the national leader in assessing college readiness and students who meet the College Board’s College Readiness benchmark are more likely to enroll in, succeed and graduate from college," the College Board President Gaston Caperton was quoted in a press release issued on September 14, 2011. “Ensuring that students are ready to attend and complete college provides them with the competitive advantage they need to successfully compete in the global economy, which is critical to the future of our nation.”

College Board Blames Low SAT Scores on Bigger Number of Test Takers

According to The Wall Street Journal, College Board officials claim that declining SAT scores can partially be attributed to the fact that more students are now taking the exam and a larger test taking population is more academically diverse.

Ten years ago, just eight percent of students taking the SAT were of Latino heritage, compared with 15 percent in 2011. The number of black students taking the SAT in 2011 was 13 percent, compared with nine percent in 2001. The number of students that grew up speaking a language besides English has also increased considerably in the past 10 years, and more than 20 percent of students taking the SAT in 2011 qualified for free exam waivers due to low family incomes.

Inside Higher Ed reports that the combined average SAT scores of Asian Americans increased by an average of 30 points in the past three years, while every other racial and ethnic group’s average scores have declined.

In 2006, when SAT scores dropped seven percentage points from the year before, the Yale Daily News reported that College Board spokeswoman Caren Scoropanos said that the plunge was caused by the fact that fewer students took the test multiple times. “The major reason for the fluctuation is that students re-tested in smaller numbers, meaning that less students took the test a second time,” she said. “Usually, when students take the test for a second time, their scores go up by an average of 30 points.”

What is a Good SAT Score?

The College Board claims that an SAT Benchmark score of 1550 is indicative of success in college, but what do the colleges and universities think is a good SAT score? There’s no magic answer, but The Princeton Review says that number depends on which colleges students are considering and a general rule of thumb is “the higher, the better.”

SAT scores below 1100 are considered low at most colleges and the national average is about 1500. The Princeton Review recommends checking out a particular college’s admission data from previous years to estimate if your score is high enough for admittance.

Colleges that Do Not Require SAT

Alternatively, FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, publishes a list of colleges and universities that “deemphasize the use of standardized tests” by making admissions decisions without SAT or ACT scores.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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