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The average scores on the SAT fell two points this year, losing one point each in critical reading and in writing, while staying level in mathematics. The drops are smaller than the six-point decrease last year. For several years prior to that, scores had been relatively flat.

The College Board's annual report on the data stressed the continuation of patterns in which most American students aren't taking the high school courses that would prepare them to do well in college. The data released by the board show the continuation of substantial gaps in the average scores (and levels of preparation for college) by members of different racial and ethnic groups, and those from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Average scores on the ACT were flat this year, and both the SAT and ACT saw growth in the number of test-takers. But the ACT grew at a faster pace and overtook the SAT this year in the number of test-takers (although the margin was quite small, about 2,000 students, with both exams attracting more than 1.66 million test-takers). The ACT was once seen primarily as a test for those seeking to attend Midwestern and Southern colleges, but has over the years attracted more students in other parts of the country, even as the SAT is still dominant in regions such as the Northeast.

Here are the scores on the three parts of the SAT since 2006, when the writing test was added as part of a major overhaul of the test

Average SAT Scores, 2006-2012

Year Reading Mathematics Writing
2006 503 518 497
2007 501 514 493
2008 500 514 493
2009 499 514 492
2010 500 515 491
2011 497 514 489
2012 496 514 488

College Board officials have long cautioned against reading too much into a one-point gain or one-point drop in a given year, but over the years since the new SAT was introduced, the average total score has fallen by 20 points, and scores have fallen in all three categories.

Of particular interest to many college officials are the continued gaps in the average scores of members of different racial and ethnic groups. An analysis prepared by FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing (a longstanding critic of the SAT and other standardized tests) showed that during the years since the new SAT was unveiled, the average score (adding all three sections) of Asian-American applicants has gone up by 41 points, while the averages of all other groups have fallen, with white students falling only 4 points, and all other groups falling between 15 and 22 points.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the organization, said that these growing gaps showed that the testing-based education reforms that have been popular in recent years are not narrowing the divides among various ethnic and racial groups, as testing advocates have argued that they would.

Average SAT Scores, by Race and Ethnicity, 2012

Group Reading Mathematics Writing
American Indian 482 489 462
Asian American 518 595 528
Black 428 428 417
Mexican American 448 465 443
Puerto Rican 452 452 442
Other Latino 447 461 442
White 527 536 515

The report issued by the College Board drew attention to the characteristics of students who tend to do well on the SAT, namely those who complete recommended college preparatory courses. There are distinct patterns, as noted in the above table, on average scores by race and ethnic group, and by family income (with wealthier students, on average, performing better). But as the College Board materials noted, there are also distinct patterns in which groups are most likely to have completed the recommended high school curriculum or other measures of advanced academic preparation:

  • 80 percent of white students who took the SAT completed the core curriculum, as did 73 percent of Asian students, but only 69 percent of Latino and 65 percent of black students did.
  • 84 percent of those who took the SAT from families with at least $200,000 in family income completed the core curriculum, but only 65 percent of those with family income under $20,000 did so.
  • In mathematics, where there is the largest gap between Asian Americans and other groups in SAT scores, 47 percent of Asian Americans who took the SAT reported taking Advanced Placement and/or honors mathematics, compared to 40 percent of white students, 31 percent of Latino students and 25 percent of black students.

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