The results for the newly revised SAT exam show that less than half of all test takers were fully college-ready and that ethnic and racial disparities persist in California and the rest of the nation.
This first round of student scores after the much-discussed overhaul were released Tuesday without comparisons to past versions of the influential college entrance exam.
California students who graduated high school in 2017 scored 531 in the so-called evidence-based reading and writing section and 524 in math. Those were just two and three points respectively below the national average. (A perfect score would be 800 in each section.)
Test administrators have established new score benchmarks to identify students likely ready to take and succeed with at least a C grade in entry-level college-credit bearing courses. The California scores show that 70 percent of test-takers met the 480 benchmark of college readiness in the reading and verbal section; 47 percent did so by hitting at least 530 in math; and 45 percent were college ready in both skill areas. That is close to the national share of SAT takers who were deemed college-ready: 70 percent in reading, 49 percent in math and 46 in both.
The test’s content was dramatically changed last year to align much more closely with subject material taught in high school and to make it less dependent on test-taking skills and strategies taught in expensive preparatory classes.
Officials of the College Board, which sponsors the exam, said it was impossible to compare the new results with past ones and declined to offer any explanation of how the new material could have pushed mean scores higher than in past versions. (Under the old test, national average scores in 2016 were somewhat lower: 494 in reading and 508 in math.)
Before the redesign, the College Board defined college readiness differently and linked it to the likelihood of students earning at least an overall GPA of B minus in college freshman year. Under that old formula, about 42 percent of test takers were deemed college-ready in 2015, the last year with a wide enough sample of test takers on the old exam, officials said.
But whatever the changes in the exam, ethnic differences in results persist as they have for decades. Asian American students once again scored on top, with a combined two-part total mean of 1181 nationally and 1145 in California; whites, 1118 national and 1153 in the state; Latinos, 990 and 992; Pacific Islanders, 986 and 1022; and African-Americans, 941 and 961.
College Board officials said they are encouraged by steady increases in student scores in all ethnic and racial groups between the time they take the preliminary PSAT earlier in high school and when they take the actual SAT in junior and senior years. David Coleman, College Board president, said that shows the new test is doing what it is supposed to do, focusing on high school course work and judging skills that students can build in high school. “The new SAT reflects the best work students are doing in their classroom, their hard work in class and doing homework,” he said.
The online Khan Academy, in partnership with the College Board, began offering free tutorials and practice tests on the SAT last year. And officials once again touted what they claim are benefits to students who practice on the Khan website for at least 20 hours. As EdSource reported in May, those student reportedly gain on average 115 point gain between their PSAT and SAT, double the gains other students showed.
Critics of the SAT continue to allege that the revised test was really designed to compete better with the rival ACT exam, to which it had been losing market share. The new SAT is “a marketing ploy designed to sell more tests, not a better tool for tracking college readiness,” according to Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a group that has long questioned the value of standardized testing in college admissions. In his statement, Schaeffer also noted that an increasing number of colleges are dropping the requirement for any test scores in admissions applications or making such scores optional.
About 1.7 million in the class of 2017 took the SAT across the country, including about 226,700 in California, or 53 percent of the state’s high school graduates this year.