Sep 9, 2015

SAT scores drop while ACT stays even

As the summer officially drew to a close and students started returning to school, both the College Board and ACT officially released national score results from college-bound seniors graduating this past spring.

And the results were not too encouraging—especially if the expectation was that with all the emphasis on Common Core and accountability, scores would go up.

From a business perspective, both organizations did well enough.  Both ACT and SAT reported that more students took the tests than ever before.  But in the head-to-head race, ACT clearly won and opened a significant lead in terms of numbers of test-takers.  This year, 1.92 million individuals took the ACT (up from 1.85 million in 2014), and 1.7 took the SAT (up from 1.67 million in 2014).

For the record, as recently as 2011, the SAT counted more test-takers than ACT, which was considered more of a regional upstart in the world of college entrance examinations.  But with the help of state-wide testing contracts and ongoing questions about the direction the College Board is taking, ACT continues to chip away at market share and has clearly lost its sleepy Midwestern persona.

But even at the head of the race, ACT had little good information to report for 2015.  Scores were flat and significant gaps continue to appear in average scores by race and ethnicity.  The national composite score was 21, the same as last year, with tiny gains of 0.1 in all sections except math, which experienced a 0.1 point decline (the highest possible score on any component and the composite is 36).

Locally the numbers looked a little more promising.  ACT test-takers increased substantially in DC (+7%), Maryland (+12%) and Virginia (+9%) with the Commonwealth heading the group at 25,038 graduating seniors taking the test.  All three came in with composite scores above the national average with DC at 21.1, Maryland at 22.7 and Virginia at 23.1.  Maryland and Virginia showed solid gains over 2014, with DC dropping slightly from 21.6 the previous year.  In all three areas, students granted extended time did significantly better than those without (this isn’t true nationally).  And somewhere in the DC region, 64 students earned perfect composite scores of 36—29 in Maryland, 32 in Virginia, and 3 in the District of Columbia.  Note that in 2014, only 46 managed this feat and in 2011, only 14 students had perfect composite scores.

The results from the College Board were a bit grimmer.  SAT scores dropped significantly for the graduating class of 2015, with gaps separating students by race and ethnicity.  Given a maximum score of 800 on each of the three sections, 2015 scores dropped two points on Critical Reading (495), two points on Mathematics (511) and three points on Writing (484).  The seven-point decrease across all three sections of the test compares to a one-point decline in 2014 and no change the year before that.

In Maryland, Virginia and DC the number of SAT test-takers declined from 114,403 in 2014 to 113,184 in 2015, with the Commonwealth representing more than half the total at 59,621 test-takers.  Virginia’s students also scored far above national averages with Critical Reading at 518, Mathematics at 516 and Writing at 499.  Maryland scored closer to the rest of the nation at 491 (CR), 493 (M) and 478 (W), and DC with 100% of the graduating class taking the test, scored 441 (CR), 440 (M), and 432 (W).  Interestingly the highest Subject Test (or SAT II) scores in Maryland and Virginia were found in Korean with Listening, Chinese with Listening and Math Level 2.  In DC, the highest Subject Test Scores were in German (762), Spanish with Listening (712), and Math Level 2 (688).

For more complete breakdown of national and state test results, visit the College Board and ACT websites.

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