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SAT Scores Fall as Most Test Takers Miss College Benchmark

The College Board says students who score 1550 on the SAT have a good chance of succeeding in college.

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The College Board, creators of the SAT, say they've discovered what score students need to succeed in college: 1550. It's a score 43 percent of SAT takers met in 2011, the nonprofit organization announced today.

Students with a combined score of 1550 across the critical reading, math, and writing portions of the popular college-entrance exam have a 65 percent chance of earning a 2.67 GPA or higher during their first year of college, according to College Board research. The organization says that students who meet that benchmark have a much higher chance of graduating college than students who score below the benchmark.

[Get tips and tools from the U.S. News college test prep guide.]

It's a score that the average student fails to reach. Overall, students' scores declined slightly from previous years. The average college-bound senior scored 1500, with a 497 on critical reading, 514 on math, and 489 on writing, reflecting a 3-, 1-, and 2-point decline from 2010 scores, respectively.

The 2011 class of SAT test-takers—some 1.65 million students—was the largest and most diverse ever. More than 720,000 minority students took the test, a 7 percent increase over last year, and 36 percent of test takers were the first in their family to attend college.

The College Board attributes the decline in scores to the fact that more students were taking the exam, "because more students of varied academic backgrounds are represented in the test-taking pool."

[Read why recent high school graduates regret class selections.]

Testing experts say there's more cause for concern. Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a testing-integrity organization, says high-stakes standardized tests are bringing down the quality of public schools.

Schaeffer notes that SAT scores have declined 18 points overall since 2006, the first year that No Child Left Behind legislation required annual tests for public school students in grades three through eight and at least once in high school.

"With exploding cheating scandals and declines in college readiness scores, how many wake-up calls do policy-makers need before they admit that their test-and-punish strategy is a failure?" he asked in a statement.

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