SAT Scores Drop for the Second Year in a Row

The College Board reports a gender gap in the writing section and a rise in students with disabilities.

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SAT scores nationwide declined for the second straight year, according to data released today by the College Board—the nonprofit organization that administers the exam. The class of 2007 notched a 1-point decline in critical reading scores, a 3-point decline in mathematics, and a 3-point drop in the writing section—now in its second year.

"Over the long term, these scores are within the expected range," says Laurence Bunin, a senior vice president at the College Board who oversees the SAT. "There was a decline in scores, but we are not overly concerned."

Last year, the SAT recorded the sharpest drop in 31 years (down 5 points in reading, 2 points in math), a decline that College Board officials were quick to blame on changing testing habits of students as a result of the new format, which includes the writing test and is significantly longer than previous incarnations of the exam. The College Board insisted that a decrease in the number of students taking the test multiple times was the cause of that drop, not fatigue, as some critics charged. (A student who takes the SAT for the second time typically improves his score by as much as 30 points.) Indeed, the latest data show that more seniors took the test than in previous years, but fewer did so as freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.

With the addition of the writing section came a jump in price: from $28.50 to $41.50. In the latest group of test takers, there was a remarkable 31 percent increase in the number of students receiving fee waivers. In all, 1 out of every 9 students who took the SAT did so without cost.

Nearly 1.5 million students took the SAT in the class of 2007, compared with 1.3 million who took the ACT. (Some students sit for both exams.) ACT scores, released earlier this month, showed slight increases in scores from last year's class. Overall, 42 percent of high school graduates took the ACT, up from 40 percent in 2006. Forty-eight percent of students took the SAT.

More results at a glance:

· The number of students who took the SAT under "nonstandard conditions"—College Board parlance for students with learning disabilities who are allowed significantly more time to complete the exam—increased in absolute terms from 24,996 in 2006 to 28,605. That remains about 2 percent of all students who took the test. Meanwhile, the number of students who reported having a "disabling condition" rose from 79,307 in 2006 to 82,292 in 2007—a rise of 1 percentage point overall.

· Surprising statisticians at the College Board, scores declined for students who had taken the core precollege curriculum in high school, previously seen as an indicator that they were being adequately prepared for future studies.

· Minority students comprised nearly 40 percent of the students who took the SAT.

· There is a significant gender gap in the new writing section: Males have an average score of 489, compared with an average score of 500 for women.