SAT Scores Take Biggest Drop in 31 Years

The high school class of 2006, the first to take the new SAT that now includes a writing test, recorded the sharpest drop in SAT scores in 31 years.

The College Board, which owns the exam, released figures today showing overall combined scores for math dropped by two points to 518 and average critical reading scores fell by five points to 503. As for the new writing test, the average score was 497, with girls scoring an average of 11 points higher than boys.

The president of the College Board, Gaston Caperton, says the 3 percent increase in students who chose to take the test only once is partly to blame. The College Board says students who take the test a second time typically see a 30-point increase on their combined score.

At the University of California-Berkeley, preliminary data shows the mean total score for critical reading and math of admitted freshman students dropped by 12 points to 1342 in 2006. Still, UC system spokesman, Ricardo Vazquez, said the numbers are not of great concern because fluctuations happen.

"The SAT is one of many factors taken into consideration. We also look at their high school GPA and the college prep classes students take," Vazquez said. "There is no reason to believe there is a change in the quality of students."

The writing portion was not the only thing different on the SAT the Class of 2006 took. It also included higher-level math and the elimination of analogies.

"When a new test is introduced, students usually vary their testing behaviors and it affects their scores," Caperton said. "This is likely to be true when an entire new section, like writing, is added to the test and is required."

With the writing section, the SAT now lasts three hours and 45 minutes, not including breaks. Despite the concern of some critics of tiring out test takers, students at a press conference today to announce the scores thought the addition of the writing section was a good idea.

"I think it was something that should've been added," said 2006 high school graduate Evan Lazerowitz of Oakland, N.J. "And I think that in the coming years we'll see that as we emphasize writing more in the classroom, we'll see better results on this test."

Another concern about asking students to take the writing component is for those students whose first language is not English. The College Board's research and analysis vice president, Wayne Camara, said statistics show a different problem.

"Underrepresented minorities typically have a bigger gap in the reading test than the writing," he said.

Critical reading scores of African-American and Mexican-American students improved over last year by one point. Mexican-American students also increased their math scores, this time by two points. African-American and Asian students, however, both saw a two-point drop in their math scores.

In all, 1,465,744 members of the Class of 2006 took the SAT.

Another wave of college-bound seniors will try their luck at the exam on Oct. 14, 2006.