SAT scores remained flat for students in the class of 2013, with just 43 percent performing well enough to be considered college-ready—the same proportion as last year, according to new results issued Thursday.
Yet, African-American and Latino students in this year’s graduating class saw slight gains. Also, a record share of students taking the college-entrance exam (46 percent) were minorities.
Overall, 15.6 percent of African-Americans in the class of 2013 who took the exam met or exceeded the College Board’s college-ready benchmark, compared with 14.8 percent in 2012. Among Latinos, 23.5 percent reached that level, up from 22.8 percent the previous year.
The New York City-based College Board, which administers the SAT, released the results for 1.7 million test-takers on Sept. 26. This total represented a drop of about 4,400 in the number of students taking the exam from the class of 2012. Participation had grown every year since 1990, except for a slight dip between 2005 and 2006.
David Coleman, the president of the College Board, said he is concerned about the volume of students taking the SAT, but emphasized that the organization’s deeper obligation is to providing opportunity.
“We are not counting the number of tests kids take. We are counting the number of opportunities kids actually pursue to advance [themselves] forward,” he said in a phone call with reporters on Tuesday. “That is a newly deep focus within this College Board and everything we do.”
This year, ACT Inc. reported 1.8 million high school students took its college-entrance exam, following a rise of 22 percent over the past five years. In the same period, SAT test-takers grew by 6 percent.
The College Board announced earlier this year that it will be changing its exam in 2015 to more closely reflect the new Common Core State Standards and what is taught in the classroom, a move welcomed by many college-admissions officers.
Taking Rigorous Courses Helps
Among SAT test-takers this year, the mean score was 496 in critical reading, 514 in math, and 488 in writing, exactly as it was in 2012 and generally consistent with performance in the past five years. The College Board set a combined 1550 as the benchmark score that it determined students needed to likely make a GPA of B- or higher as college freshmen.
Overall, 43 percent of test-takers met the threshold, with 52.7 percent of white students and 60.2 percent of Asian students scoring at least 1550 in the class of 2013.
While wide racial gaps persist, performance by some underrepresented minorities improved, including African Americans and Hispanics.
However, 33.5 percent of American Indians met the benchmark for the class of 2013, compared with 34 percent the year before. Performance among white students was slightly better in 2012, with 53.1 percent meeting the benchmark, while Asians improved with 59.5 percent making at least 1550 in the previous year’s graduating class.
African-American, Latino, and American-Indian students made up 30 percent of the SAT takers in the class of 2013, an increase from 27 percent five years ago. In 2009, all minorities comprised 40 percent of SAT takers, and this year they represented an all-time high of 46 percent.
The key to improving SAT scores and college-and-career readiness is to ramp up the daily work of students across K-12 and increase participation in rigorous high school courses, said Mr. Coleman of the College Board. Students who scored better on the SAT were more likely to have completed a core curriculum in high school or have taken honors or Advanced Placement courses, he noted.
Underrepresented minorities and low-income students were less likely to have taken a rigorous course load, and Mr. Coleman said more needs to be done to improve access.
Jim Hull, the senior policy analyst at the National Association of School Boards in Alexandria, Va., said that the improvement in scores among minority students was significant.
“It’s extremely important from an educational and financial point of view,” he said. “We need more low-income and minority students ready to succeed in college.”
A ‘Red Flag’
Still, SAT performance is “so low” for minorities and the “gaps are just enormous,” said Christina Theokas, the director of research at the Education Trust, a nonprofit in Washington that promotes equity in education for low-income and minority students.
Ms. Theokas said that while she was encouraged that the College Board is trying to inform students about the need to take challenges courses, she said the schools themselves must have a role in reaching out to all students.
“We need counselors and teachers seeing potential and encouraging all students,” she said. “There are so many students other than this select group [that takes] the SAT.”
Mr. Hull said it’s important that rigorous courses live up to their names. For instance, he noted that the College Board reported that student participation in calculus rose to 33 percent for the class of 2013 from 26 percent for the class of 2012, yet average math scores for students dropped to 600 from 607 among the students who took that course.
Mr. Hull says that raises a red flag that there may be rigor in title only, not content.
To make rigor an expectation in high school, accountability should be tied with postsecondary enrollment and success, said Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. If most students leaving high school need remediation in college, that’s a strong signal that schools need to change, she said.
Making changes in the SAT to align it with the common core and classroom experience is a great move that should improve access, added Hyslop.
“You shouldn’t have to take an SAT prep course to do well on the SAT,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2013 edition of Education Week