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Minorities’ small gains on SATs seen as ‘call to action’

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American students' SAT scores have been largely stagnant for the past three years, but minorities are making slight gains on the three-part standardized exam, the College Board said Thursday.

Overall scores were the same or slightly lower than last year, with average math scores stagnant at 514, while reading and writing scores each decreased one point to 496 and 488, respectively.

The top score on each section is 800 and only 494 test-takers — 0.3 percent — scored a perfect 2,400, according to the report.

Only 43 percent of this year's 1.66 million test-takers scored 1,550, a benchmark that is considered a reliable indicator of whether test-takers will go on to enroll in a four-year college, earn at least a B-minus average and graduate within four years.

"While some might see stagnant scores as 'no-news,' we at the College Board consider it a call to action," College Board President David Coleman said. "We must dramatically increase the number of students in K-12 who are prepared for college and careers. Only by transforming the daily work that students do can we achieve excellence and equity."

The SAT is a college-entrance exam used by nearly every four-year post-secondary school in the United States.

Despite the disappointing overall statistics, several gains were made among minority students.

Compared to 2012, the percentage of minority test-takers increased 3 percent to 30 percent, and scores by black, Hispanic and Asian students generally improved.

Black students averaged 431 in reading, 429 in math and 418 in writing; Hispanics averaged 450 in reading, 443 in writing and 461 in math, down by one point from last year.

Asian students scored 521 in reading, 597 in math and 527 in writing, also down one point.

"This is a positive thing for our society, as it means that more diverse students are aspiring toward college, and in greater numbers" said Madhabi Chatterji, an associate professor at Columbia University's Teachers College. "A consequence may be flat or slightly declining trend lines on SAT scores."

Luke C. Miller, a research assistant professor at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, also believes the seemingly unflattering statistics are actually telling another, more positive story. "The participation rate has increased likely because more lower-ability students are taking the SAT in 2013 than in 2009. This would lead us to predict that the college and career-readiness rate among SAT-takers would decrease over this period." Mr. Miller said.

"The fact [that] the rate hasn't decreased suggests the true rate of college and career readiness among high school students, not just among SAT-takers, has increased over this period suggesting high school students are better prepared for college and careers today than they were in 2009."

To curb the low average score trend, the College Board has expanded advanced placement course offerings, fee waivers for low-income students and high school visits by company officials.

"The College Board will do everything it can to make sure students have access to opportunity, including rigorous course work" Mr. Coleman said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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