National News

SAT scores dip for high school class of 2009

Posted August 25, 2009 11:02 a.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2009 5:52 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina students taking the SAT in the 2008-09 school year scored an average 1,006 of a possible 1,600 points, according to aggregate data released Tuesday. The scores were slightly off the national average of 1,016 and were a point lower than the year before.

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.

The test has a third component, writing, with an available 800 points. Those are not commonly reported as part of the test total. North Carolina students averaged a 480 points on that part of the test, compared to a national average of 493.

Individual school districts also released SAT participation and performance data Tuesday.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools could boast the highest average scores in the state. The district average for reading was 581, down two points from last year's average of 583. The district average for math was 598, up two points from last year's average of 596. The district's average for writing is 572, down two points over last year.

Students in the Wake County public schools saw scores rise across the board. The average total, 1,074, exceeded both state and national averages.

In Durham County, public school students taking the test averaged 965. Two schools – Durham School of the Arts and Josephine D. Clement Early College High School – saw average SAT scores rise compared to the previous year.

Johnston County students exceeded the state average and matched the national average. They scored 1,016.

Students from Orange County schools scored an average of 1,039 points on the reading and mathematics portions of the exam – 33 points higher than the state average and 23 points higher than the national average.

Wayne County students scored an average of 972, a drop of seven points from last year.

Chatham County students scored an average 498 in math and 485 in reading for a combination 983.

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.

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.