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SAT Scores See Slight Increase as Test-Taking Surges

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More than 2 million students in the class of 2018 took the SAT, making it the most widely used college admission test.

The report, released on Thursday, showed a slight increase in the average scores. The class of 2018 scored an average of 531 in math and 536 in reading and writing, compared to the class of 2017's 527 in math and 533 in reading and writing. (Each section is measured on a 200-800 point scale.) The 2018 average composite score is 1068, up 8 points from last year.

The number of students taking the SAT has also hit an all-time high—2.1 million in the class of 2018. In comparison, its rival ACT had 1.9 million test-takers. The surge in test-taking helped the SAT reclaim its former status as the most widely used college admission test, a position ACT has held since 2012. The ACT results released last week showed a decline in math achievement and stagnant achievement in reading. It also showed a big drop in participation.

The 2018 SAT scores showed that only 47 percent of students met both the math and reading college readiness benchmark. According to the College Board, "students who meet these benchmarks have a 75 percent likelihood of earning a C or better in a related introductory, credit-bearing college course." The percentage of students meeting the benchmark is up only 1 percentage point from last year.

It's difficult to compare year-over-year results because the SAT has seen significant changes in its testing population, said Jane Dapkus, vice president of college readiness assessment for the College Board in a press briefing on Wednesday.

It's also the first year that all students took the redesigned SAT, which debuted in March 2016. Last year only 93 percent took the new SAT.

While it's hard now to conclude anything from the results because it's only the second year of the new test, and the testing population has changed, Cyndie Schmeiser, a senior adviser to David Coleman, the College Board president, said that the testing population will stabilize over time.

The increase in average scores can also be attributed to the fact that the new SAT is "so aligned" to what's happening in the classroom, she added.

"In time, we will see changes that are true reflection in students improving their readiness over time," Schmeiser said.

The new test has two sections instead of three, and the maximum composite score a student can get is now 1600 rather than 2400 in the previous version. The redesigned test got rid of obscure vocabulary words, requiring students to justify their answers instead. It also covers fewer math topics. It's shorter and has no penalty for wrong answers.

The 2018 scores show inequities similar to those of previous years. Asian-American (1223), white (1123), and multiracial (1101) students scored far above the average composite score of 1068, while Hispanic (990) and African-American (946) students scored significantly below it. The scores of Asian-American, white, and multiracial students increased from last year, but the scores of Hispanic and African-American students stayed roughly the same.

The scores also continue to correlate with parental educational background. The composite average score of students whose parents have bachelor's degrees (1129) is higher than the average of students whose parents have only a high school diploma (1005).

The number of students who took the now-optional essay is down 2 percent from last year.

Akil Bello, an independent educational consultant based in New York City, characterized the decline as a "positive thing," and a trend "worth watching," because fewer colleges are requiring the essay. Students shouldn't be spending time and money on something that's "unnecessary," he said.

The 25 percent increase in SAT test-takers can be attributed to the growth of SAT School Day, a program in which students take the SAT in their own school on a weekday, rather than taking it on a Saturday in a different school than the one they attend.

In 2017-18, 10 states (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia covered the cost of the SAT for all their public school students. Three years ago, only three states and the District of Columbia did so.

The College Board has been pushing hard to win contracts with entire states or districts, but last December the organization also announced that schools can negotiate contracts to administer the SAT during the school day.

The New York City-based organization appears to be winning the battle with the ACT for statewide contracts. The latter lost statewide contracts in Colorado, Illinois, and West Virginia, contributing to the big drop in its student participation.

The College Board is also trying to increase SAT participation through fee waivers for low-income students, and by taking steps to identify eligible students and automatically giving them the fee waiver benefits, said Schmeiser.

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