The College Board, sponsor of the SAT, says latest scores show that roughly 6 in 10 college-bound high school students who took the test were so lacking in their reading, writing and math skills, they were unprepared for college-level work.
The College Board is calling for big changes to better prepare students for college and career.
The average SAT score this year was 1498 out of a possible 2400. It's been roughly the same for the past five years.
"And we at the College Board are concerned," says David Coleman, the board's president.
In a conference call with reporters, Coleman said his biggest concern is the widening gap in scores along racial and ethnic lines. This year Asian students had the highest overall average scores in reading, writing and math, followed by whites, and then Latinos. Black students had the lowest average scores. Coleman said it's time to do something about it, not just sit back and report how poorly prepared students are for college and career.
"Simply put, the College Board will go beyond simply delivering assessments to actually transforming the daily work that students are doing," Coleman says.
Coleman wants to work with schools to make coursework tougher and ensure that students have access to more demanding honors and Advanced Placement courses, because right now, most students don't. Most worrisome of all, Coleman says, "minority students, underrepresented students, have less access."
And that's important because more and more low-income, minority students are taking the test — although College Board officials were quick to dismiss that as the reason scores have remained flat.
A Piece Of The Puzzle
This year only 15 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos met or exceeded the SAT benchmark for college and career readiness. Jim Hull, senior policy analyst with the National School Boards Association, says that's a serious problem.
But, he says, "what I would tell our school board members is to look at other indicators as well beyond just the SAT score to determine if, in fact, their schools are preparing students for college. The SAT is a very important piece of information, but it is just one piece of the puzzle."
Hull says high schools need to offer more rigorous courses. He says that's why most states have adopted the so-called Common Core standards. But some critics of standardized testing say that's why the College Board is hyping this year's poor test scores.
Bob Schaeffer, head of FairTest, a longtime opponent of standardized testing, says the College Board is intent on hitching the future of the SATs to the Common Core, which the board's Coleman helped write. It's a business decision to try to keep the SAT relevant, says Schaeffer.
"The number of SAT test takers actually declined from 2012-2013," Schaeffer says. "You need to do something to preserve your market share for financial survival."
More students take the ACT than the SAT, but the biggest reason the SAT is fighting for its survival, says Schaeffer, is that it's not the predictor of college success it claims to be.
"Look, the strongest correlation between SAT scores and virtually anything is family income: The higher your family income, the higher your scores. It's one of the major reasons so many campuses are populated by upper-income kids and not the needy kids who need the opportunity," Schaeffer says.
As for the College Board's push to help more minority kids have greater access to honors and Advanced Placement courses, Schaeffer says that, too, is a marketing ploy.
Nonsense, says Coleman.
"These courses [get] them ready for the work of the future. That's why we're working to expand access to Advanced Placement courses for students across the country," Coleman says.
Coleman says the College Board's goal ultimately is not just to push for higher standards. It's to persuade more low-income black and Latino students who do well on AP and SAT tests to apply to top colleges.