SAT Scores Fall as Gap Widens; Asians Gain

John Hechinger, Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2009

High-school students’ performance last year on the SAT college-entrance exam fell slightly, and the score gap generally widened between lower-performing minority groups and white and Asian-American students, raising questions about the effectiveness of national education reform efforts.

Average scores for the class of 2009 in critical reading dropped to 501 from 502, in writing to 493 from 494 and held steady in math, at 515. The combined scores are the lowest this decade and reflect stalled performance over the past three years. The reading scores are the worst since 1994.

Many observers Tuesday viewed the flat results of recent years as discouraging in light of a more than 25-year effort to improve U.S. education. “This is a nearly unrelenting tale of woe and disappointment,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. “If there’s any good news here, I can’t find it.”

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In the class of 2009, African-American students received an average critical reading score of 429, or 72 points below the general population. Math scores had a similar gap. Hispanic students’ scores also lagged but not by as much.

Asian-American students showed the most dramatic gains. In math they scored an average of 587-72 points better than the general population. Since 2008, their average math score has climbed six points.

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Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, the New York-based nonprofit that oversees the SAT, stressed what he considered the good news in Tuesday’s data: the growing and diverse number of students taking the exam.

A record 1.53 million students took the exam in 2009. About 40% were minority students, up from 29% in 1999. Education analysts said scores would be expected to drop as more students take the test, so College Board officials interpreted the stability in scores as encouraging.

Noting the gap in achievement between lower-performing minority students and the general population, College Board officials said those who lagged tended to go to school in poorer districts with fewer resources. {snip}

College Board officials said that Asian-American students appeared to do better at all income levels. Officials said that was because they tend to take more Advanced Placement and other rigorous courses, and their families place a strong value on success in education.

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