Scores among every racial group except for those of Asian descent declined from 2006 levels. A majority of test takers — 57 percent — did not score high enough to indicate likely success in college, according to the College Board, the organization that administers the test.
In the Washington region, average statewide reading scores in Maryland, Virginia and the District all slipped slightly from 2011. But in Montgomery, Fairfax and Arlington counties, students outperformed their peers across their states and the country. And Montgomery County set a record for total average scores.
But the national trend lines are alarming and should serve as “a call to action,” College Board President Gaston Caperton said. “When less than half of kids who want to go to college are prepared to do so, that system is failing.”
The nearly four-hour SAT covers critical reading, writing and math. Each subject is worth a maximum of 800 points, for a potential total of 2400 points. For generations, SAT scores have been used, in conjunction with grade-point averages, by college admission officers to judge whether an applicant is likely to succeed at their school.
But questions about whether the SAT is biased in favor of middle-class and wealthy students have led many colleges and universities to use other gauges or to accept an alternative exam, the ACT, which edged out the SAT in 2012 for the first time as the nation’s most popular college entrance exam.
There is a significant correlation between family income and test scores on the SAT, with average scores increasing with every $20,000 in additional family income.
Educational experts are divided over the causes. Some assert that privileged students do better on the SAT because they are exposed to activities, from summer camp to private violin lessons, that give them an advantage in that particular test. Others point to the fact that affluent parents can provide private tutoring and privileged students can afford to take the test multiple times.
Still, many school districts — and parents — traditionally have seen SAT scores as an important measure of the quality of a K-12 education.
Across the country, 1.66 million seniors who graduated last June took the SAT, the highest number since the exam was first administered in 1926 to a few thousand overwhelmingly white and privileged students headed for Ivy League schools. In many places around the country, school administrators have been nudging more students to take the exam, saying that all students should consider college. In Prince George’s County, officials plan to offer the exam during the regular school day this year, making it more convenient for students.