SAT Trends: Drop in national scores explained

Taylor Lee

Over 50% of students in the graduating Class of 2012 nationwide scored below the benchmark level of academic preparedness for college based on their SAT score, according to the College Board.

Although it is concerning to have the lowest critical reading score in 40 years of SAT history, compared to the average test scores in 2011, critical reading and writing dropped only one point whereas the mean math score stayed the same.

“[The drop] gets headlines because scores are going in the directions we don’t want them to, but factually the scores only went down about one point this year,” said Bruce Reed, co-founder of the Compass Test Prep company in Larkspur. “For the average to move one point is really a pretty minor drop year over year.”

There are many possible explanations for the drop, including a larger number of students overall and a distinct rise in different types of students taking the test.

The number of students taking the SAT nationwide has increased from 1,494,531 in 2007 to 1,664,479 in 2012, according to the College Board’s total group profile report.

“The testing population is getting bigger and more diverse,” Reed said. “[Now], about 30 percent of all SAT test takers don’t speak English at home as a first language.”

According to the College Board, 347,512 SAT takers in 2012 were students whose first language was not English.

In addition, 36% of all students taking the SAT had a parental level of education no higher than a high school diploma and 46% were underserved minority students counting on being the first-generation of college students in their family.

Reed said that the core curriculum on the SAT is taught to most students by the end of 9th grade, yet test scores don’t reach their potential until a certain cognitive level has been reached.