Virginia students received their highest scores ever on the modern SAT college admission test this year, and scores also rose in the District even as national averages remained unchanged. Maryland’s scores dropped for the third straight year, according to data for the Class of 2013 released Thursday.
The College Board, the organization that oversees the test, reported that Virginia students who graduated in the spring scored 11 points better than those in the Class of 2012 who took the exam, with an average of 1528 out of 2400, beating the national average of 1498. Virginia officials attributed the boost to factors including increased rigor in classroom curriculum and improvements in teacher evaluation and preparation. All state-level figures from the College Board include public and private schools.
“It’s impressive to see such a significant jump in one year,” said David M. Foster, president of the Virginia Board of Education. “We saw increases across the board and some narrowing of the achievement gap.”
It made for Virginia’s best-ever overall score on the current version of the SAT, which dates to 2005. Reflecting statewide gains, Northern Virginia’s public schools fared better this year. Fairfax County public schools saw a four-point rise in overall scores, to 1663; Arlington County students also saw a four-point spike, to 1645; Loudoun County students saw an increase of 16 points, to 1606; and Prince William County reported an eight-point gain, to 1498. The City of Alexandria declined to release its SAT data.
The SAT and the other major college entrance exam, the ACT, are crucial for students seeking admission to selective schools. The ACT has recently surpassed its rival in market share, with about 1.8 million students from the Class of 2013 taking it, compared with 1.66 million who took the SAT. But the SAT has a much greater presence in Virginia, the District and Maryland.
Nationally, the results for the Class of 2013 mirrored those for the preceding year’s class. Average scores in critical reading (496), math (514) and writing (488) were all unchanged. Each section of the exam is worth 800 points.
What’s more, the share of students who met or exceeded a benchmark that the College Board considers a key predictor of “college and career readiness” — a composite score of 1550 — has been virtually unchanged for the past five years. The share now stands at 43 percent.
Considered another way, that means 57 percent of this year’s high school graduates who took the test did not meet the readiness benchmark.
“While some might see stagnant scores as no news, we at the College Board consider it a call to action,” David Coleman, the nonprofit organization’s president, said in a conference call with reporters. He said schools must expand access to rigorous course work for all students. “We are impatient with the state of progress.”
In February, Coleman said that the College Board plans a makeover of the SAT. He said Tuesday that the board expects to announce more about the test’s redesign in January.
Michael J. Petrilli, an education analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said college admission test scores should be read with caution because the test takers are not a representative sample from the nation’s high schools. But, he said, the unchanged national SAT scores dovetail with other national test data that show stagnant achievement in high school.
“You can say that at the 12th-grade level, the major trend, as has been the case for many years, is flat,” Petrilli said, adding that the trend contrasts with growth in earlier grades. “It’s one of the great questions in education policy today: Why have the gains at the lower level not translated into gains at the higher level?”
Locally, SAT scores also rose in the District, but they fell in Maryland.
District students — including those in private and public schools — did 18 points better than in the previous year and were several points shy of a high mark in 2010. They still fell far short of national scores, with an overall average of 1400. Those from the District’s public schools, regular and charter, had an average score of 1200, said Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokeswoman for D.C. public schools.
In Maryland, SAT scores fell by four points overall, a dip equally split between math and writing. Overall SAT scores in Maryland have fallen three years in a row, this year landing at 1483.
Maryland officials said they took heart in an increase in student participation. They cited a 2.4 percent increase in the number of African American students taking the test and an 18.25 percent jump in Hispanic students taking it. State officials have been encouraging underrepresented minorities toward higher education.
“This has been a goal. We’re trying to get students whose parents haven’t gone to college to start thinking about post-secondary education,” said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.
In Montgomery County, SAT scores slipped three points compared with last year — a high point — but, at 1648, remained solidly above state and national averages. School officials for Montgomery said more economically disadvantaged students took the test — and scored 22 points higher overall than similar students a year earlier. Prince George’s officials declined to release their students’ SAT scores.
In Virginia, SAT participation was down slightly, which Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said could be an “artifact of the economy,” a reflection of students choosing the ACT or evidence of students opting for institutions that do not require such exams.
Still, minority participation was up, and, overall, Wright said, “I’m most pleased that we’re beginning to close some gaps between white students and minorities.”
Gaps are still large, but Virginia reported that black students scored higher in critical reading, math and writing. Hispanic students improved in reading and math, with no change in writing.
The newly released data show notable growth in minority student participation nationally in recent years. The share of SAT test takers of racial or ethnic minority background was 46 percent for the Class of 2013, up from 40 percent in 2009. Hispanic, black and American Indian students accounted for 30 percent of the testing pool, up from 27 percent in 2009.