Disappointing SAT Test Scores — Again

The College Board released its latest SAT score results this week and the results are once again disappointing.

The average score for the reading portion of the SAT is at its lowest level in four decades. The high school seniors in the class of 2012 earned an average reading score of 496 out of a maximum of 800. That represents a decline of 34 points since 1972, which is the first year that the College Board started tracking high school senior classes.

The average score for the writing portion of the SAT also dropped to the lowest it’s been since the section was introduced in 2006.

Latest Average SAT Test Scores

Here are the average scores for all three testing categories for the latest crop of seniors, which are each based on a 800-point scale

  • Reading: 496
  • Math: 514
  • Writing: 488

Total Average Score:  1498

The College Board calculates that students need a total score of at least 1550 out of the maximum 2400 to be considered college ready. According to the testmaker, only 43% of high school seniors meet that benchmark.

Bob Schaeffer, the public education director at FairTest, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting standardized testing, sent me a graphic illustrating the decline of SAT scores for nearly all groups since 2006. Total scores for males and females have dropped 21 and 20 points respectively during the past six years. During this time period, the only good news comes from Asians, who captured a 41-point improvement in the SAT.

Here is Schaeffer’s chart:

What parents need to keep in mind is that SAT scores are most definitely not the strongest predictor of college success. The biggest predictor of college readiness is a teenager’s grade point average. The GPA is a strong indicator regardless of how academically strong a teenager’s school is.

Why Lower Scores?

There are plenty of theories about why scores have continued to decline. The College Board is eager to suggest the lower scores are caused by a growing number of students taking the test, including those who are not taking enough college-prep classes.

Schaeffer at FairTest argues that the slumping SAT scores is an indictment of the test-driven policies of schools districts across the country that have been motivated by No-Child-Left Behind and the Race to the Top programs.

There is probably truth in both camps, but what the latest scores reminded me of was a podcast from This American Life last week that can provide hope to those who don’t have access to test-prep classes, high quality schools and even parents who give a damn about their kids. The podcast explored how society is so fixated on standardized testing and other ways to measure cognitive learning that it overlooks the values of soft skills, which can be taught, in navigating through college.

In the podcast, host Ira Glass talks with Paul Tough the author of a new bestseller entitled How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. Tough argues convincingly that the qualities that matter most in life are not connected to test scores, but rather have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control.

Read more on The College Solution:

Studying for the SAT for Free

Sizing Up Your SAT And ACT Scores

Boosting Your ACT Score Through Superscoring

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of the second edition of The College Solution.


 SAT Test image courtesy of Flickr user Ralph Hockens.


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