The class of 2007 averaged the lowest math and reading SAT scores since 1999, the College Board reported Tuesday.
Last spring's high school seniors scored on average 502, out of a possible 800 points, on the critical reading section of the country's most popular college entrance exam, down from 503 for the class of 2006. Math scores fell three points from 518 to 515.
North Carolina's math score dropped from 513 last year to 509. The critical reading score stayed the same at 495, and the average writing score fell to 485 from 488 in 2006, when the writing test was first included in the SAT.
"The number and percentage of North Carolina high school seniors who take the SAT show us that students are planning for education beyond high school," State Superintendent of Education June Atkinson said in a statement. "While we would like to see scores increase every year, this development is a positive indicator for North Carolina's future."
Seventy-one percent of North Carolina high school seniors took the SAT last year, placing the state 11th nationally in overall participation.
Wake County scores dropped across the board – six points in math, three in reading and five in writing. Durham County students improved their reading scores by three points but fell by seven points in math and two points in writing. Orange County scores also were down in all three areas – 10 points in math, three points in reading and five points in math.
The national declines follow a seven-point drop last year for the first class to take a lengthened and redesigned SAT, which included higher-level math questions and eliminated analogies. The College Board, which owns the exam, insisted the new exam wasn't harder and attributed last year's drop to fewer students taking it a second time. Students typically fare about 30 points better when they take the exam again.
The College Board's report Tuesday noted that a record number of students - just short of 1.5 million - took the test. The cohort of test-takers also was the most diverse ever, with minority students accounting for 39 percent: There has been a persistent gap between the scores of whites and the two largest U.S. minority groups, Hispanics and blacks.
In New York, 89 percent of students took the exam, up from 88 percent last year. Maine recently became the first state to use the SAT to meet its Grade 11 assessment requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and 100 percent of students took the exam there, compared to about three-quarters in the class of 2006.
"They have taken a very progressive stand in trying to get more and more students to go to college," College Board President Gaston Caperton said of Maine at a news conference Tuesday morning. "The larger the population you get to take an examination, it obviously knocks down the scores."
The number of black students taking the SAT rose 6 percent, and the number of test-takers calling themselves "Other Hispanic, Latino or Latin American" (a group that does not include Puerto Ricans or Mexican Americans) rose more than 25 percent.
Average scores also slipped from 497 to 494 on the writing portion of the SAT, which debuted with the class of 2006. Many colleges are waiting to see results from the first few years of data on the writing exam before determining how to use it.
Figures released earlier this month on the rival ACT exam showed a slight increase - from 21.1 last year to 21.2, on a scale of 1 to 36 - for the class of 2007.
The SAT has historically been more popular on the East and West coasts, while the ACT has been more popular in the Midwest and inland western states. But more and more students are taking both exams to try to improve their college resumes.