Average scores on the SAT college entrance exam dipped slightly for the high school class of 2009, while gender, race and income gaps widened, according to figures released Tuesday by the College Board.
The average SAT score dipped from 502 last year to 501 on the critical reading section of the test. Math scores held steady at 515, and writing fell from 494 to 493. Each section has a maximum score of 800.
More than 1.5 million members of the class of 2009 took the exam, which remains the most widely used college entrance exam despite recent gains by another test, the ACT. The SAT tries to measure basic college-readiness skills, while the ACT is more focused on what students have learned in the classroom.
Average SAT scores were stable or rising most years from 1994 to 2004, but have been trending downward since. That's likely due in part to the widening pool of test-takers. That's a positive sign more students are aspiring to college, but it also tends to weigh down average scores.
Forty percent of students in this year's pool were minorities and more than one-third reported their parents had never attended college. More than a quarter reported English was not their first language at home.
Racial gap widens
However, the scores also indicate a widening of the gaps that have made the test a target for critics of standardized testing. On the three combined sections, men scored 27 points higher on average than women, compared to 24 points higher last year. That gap is mostly attributable to men's higher math scores.
Average combined scores for white students declined two points, but scores for black students fell four points, widening the racial gap. Average scores for two of the three categories the College Board uses for identifying Hispanics also declined.
Meanwhile, average combined scores by students reporting their families earned over $200,000 surged 26 points to 1702, an increase that could fuel further criticism the test is too coachable and favors students who can afford expensive test-prep tutoring.
The College Board, the not-for-profit organization that administers the exam, strongly discourages comparing and ranking states and districts based on SAT results. The test-taking population can vary considerably, and the College Board argues rankings may discourage schools from pushing students to apply for college.