SAT scores fell modestly this year for the last high school class to take the old version of the college admission test.
The average total score for graduating students who took the old SAT at least once through January was 1484, out of a maximum score of 2400, the College Board reported Tuesday. That was 12 points lower than the national average for the previous class in a comparable period. The total drop included declines of three points on the critical reading section of the test, four points in math and five points in writing.
Average combined scores this year were 1285 for the District of Columbia, 1456 for Maryland and 1535 for Virginia — all for students in the Class of 2016 who took the old test. But there were no comparable scores for states and the District for the previous class.
The results were muddied this year because the old test was retired after it was given in January, in the middle of the school year. Scores on the old test had been trending downward, and the latest results appeared to continue that pattern. Scores released in 2015 were the lowest in a decade, fueling worries about high school reform.
The new version debuted in March, with an overhauled format and maximum score of 1600. The College Board jettisoned much of the old test’s arcane vocabulary questions, dropped the penalty for guessing and made the essay optional.
The midyear transition, the first in more than a decade, left many students puzzling over whether to take the old SAT, the new SAT or the rival ACT. That flux affected who took the old test and, in turn, influenced the results.
Scores for the new version will not be reported until after this year’s high school seniors have graduated.
“We’re in a peculiar state this year,” College Board President David Coleman said in a media conference call. With partial data for old and new tests, he said, “the bottom line is we’re caught in between.”
For the College Board, perhaps the most important numbers from Tuesday’s report were the participation totals for a year of uncertainty as the new test was rolled out. The totals were up slightly, officials said:
●About 1.68 million students in the Class of 2016 took either the old or the new SAT at least once, compared with 1.66 million in the previous class.
●Nearly 1.36 million students took the new SAT from March through June, compared with 1.18 million who took the old test during the same period in 2015.
●More than 458,000 students took the SAT during a school day in the 2015-2016 school year, up from 219,500 the year before.
D.C. public school students are among those who can take the SAT during a school day instead of on a Saturday. Those in Maryland and Virginia are not. The school-day program, echoing similar efforts by the ACT, fundamentally changes participation and scores because it make the testing free for students and enables a state or school system to offer the test to its entire class.
When more students are tested, scores generally go down. Students who come from lower-income families tend to get lower scores than those who are more affluent.
But the College Board and the ACT think that widespread testing also encourages more students to go to college who otherwise might not.
The SAT, launched in 1926, was for generations the most widely used standardized admission test. But it fell behind the ACT in 2012. The Iowa-based ACT, first given in 1959, tests students in reading, English, math and science, with an optional essay. About 2.1 million took the ACT in the Class of 2016.
In years past, the SAT was described as a test of aptitude, aiming to gauge students’ natural potential. Not anymore. The new SAT, like the ACT, is billed as a test of achievement that tracks the school curriculum.
Colleges accept scores from either test. A growing number do not require applicants to submit admission test scores, but most selective schools still do.
The SAT has long been more widely used in the Washington area, but the ACT has made inroads in the region.
●In the District, 4,790 in the Class of 2016 took the old SAT at least once through January; 1,692 took the ACT before graduation.
●In Maryland, 47,449 took the old SAT at least once; 16,769 took the ACT.
●In Virginia, 57,861 took the old SAT at least once; 25,866 took the ACT.