Minority Participation, Scores Up for Some of the Class of '09

By Nick Anderson and Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Four out of 10 students who take the SAT are racial or ethnic minorities, the College Board reported Tuesday, a milestone for the college admissions test most widely used in the nation and the Washington region.

But scores of the wealthiest students are growing faster than scores of the poorest, and some racial disparities in test performance are widening.

Narrowing such achievement gaps has become a key issue. Loudoun County schools, contrary to the national trend, reported that average SAT scores for black and Hispanic students rose faster than for white students.

For the 1.5 million students nationwide in the Class of 2009 who took the 3-hour, 45-minute test, composite scores were 501 in critical reading, down one point from the year before; 515 in mathematics, unchanged; and 493 in writing, down one point. Those figures include results from public and private schools. The grading scale is 200 to 800 points for each section.

During the past decade, math scores have risen four points, and reading scores dropped four.

The College Board, a New York-based nonprofit organization that oversees the test, stressed participation trends, not scores. The 40 percent minority share of test-takers was up from 38 percent a year ago and 29.2 percent in 1999.

"We are tremendously encouraged by the increasing diversity of participation in the SAT," said College Board President Gaston Caperton. "As the equity gap narrows, more than ever, the SAT reflects the diversity of students in our nation's classrooms."

But one of the SAT's leading critics pointed to widening score gaps by race and income, despite many efforts to raise performance of disadvantaged students through the federal No Child Left Behind law. For example, black student scores fell four points (to 1276), while white scores fell two points (to 1581). Scores for students whose families earned more than $200,000 shot up 26 points (to 1702), while scores for those whose families earn $60,000 a year or less were unchanged or rose only slightly.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the nation cannot test its way to better educational quality or equity," said Bob Schaeffer of the advocacy organization FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

The SAT counted about 110,400 test-takers from Maryland, Virginia and the District in the Class of 2009, up from about 109,900 in 2005.

In Loudoun, schools reported a composite score of 1593, up 18 points over one year and 33 points over two.

"The most important thing is that in every one of the ethnic groups we saw an increase, and they were all pretty substantial increases," said Sharon Ackerman, Loudoun's assistant superintendent for instruction. For example, the average score for white students in the county rose nine points, to 1631, while the average score for black students rose 18 points, to 1395, and the average for students of Mexican heritage rose 98 points, to 1580. Scores in other Hispanic categories also rose sharply in Loudoun.

Montgomery County schools reported that black student participation rose this year as black student scores rose 20 points, to 1356. White student scores, meantime, fell seven points, to 1733.

In Calvert County, composite scores rose five points to 1531, while the number of minority test-takers more than doubled. More than half of black students in the class of 2009 took the test, compared with 20 percent in 2008. The county's black student scores rose five points, to 1311. Superintendent Jack Smith credited a long-term drive to enroll more students in Advanced Placement courses.

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