SAT Scores: A New Group Shifts the Picture

You've probably heard by now that the annual SAT score report is out. (See our story here.) There isn't any huge news here; scores improved a little in math and remained flat in reading and writing during the last year. They're still down from their decade's peak in 2005. We have the usual depressing score gaps among racial and ethnic groups, and among the privileged and the less-than-privileged.

Here's where it got interesting for me: Just as the number of SAT test-takers slipped beneath the number of ACT-takers for the first time, the College Board included a group of participants it has excluded in the past. By adding those into its total, it can still claim that its test is more popular than the ACT.

Say what? OK. Let's walk through this. It's like this: Every year, the College Board reports the number of students in a given graduating class who took the SAT sometime during high school, excluding those who took it for the first time in May or June of their senior year.

That is how we've reported the scores every year, because that is how the College Board reports them. And that is how the trend line stays intact.

This year, the CB decided to report that additional number of students who took the test for the first time in May or June of their senior year—about 49,000. Adding that group would bring the total 2010 test-takers to 1,597,329, about 28,000 more than took the ACT in the class of 2010 (although the ACT folks tell me that their data cutoff dates end up excluding up to 20,000 first-time-ACT-taking seniors, as well).

But the College Board didn't use the larger total in its trend analysis; it just lets us know how big the group is, that it's increasing in size (44 percent since 2006), and that its scores are a bit lower than those of the cohort it has traditionally analyzed.

This year, for the last time, the College Board trend analysis looks only at the students who took the test sometime in high school, minus the first-timer seniors from May and June. Looking at that group of 1,547,990 students allows the world at large to see the trend lines clearly (but makes the College Board look like its losing the popularity contest with ACT).

It does intend to use the larger figure in future years when it does its detailed trend analysis. This year serves as notice of that change.

All in the things-you-should-know category.

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