Most Diverse Class of Students Ever Sits for SAT

Minority participation rate for the exam was at an all-time high, but average scores varied widely.

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More minority students from this year's high school graduating class sat for the SAT exam than ever before, officials from the nonprofit College Board, which owns the test, said Tuesday. Minorities comprised 40 percent of all SAT takers. The College Board also reported that the national average score dropped 2 points from the previous year and that average scores varied widely by race and family income.

Hispanics represented the fastest-growing group of minority test takers, accounting for almost 14 percent of those who took it, up from less than 8 percent 10 years ago. Hispanics' average score was 152 points lower than the average total score of 1,509. Students who identified themselves as Asian, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander posted a 13-point gain on the test. On the other hand, students who identified themselves as Puerto Rican posted a 9-point drop in average scores. Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year posted, on average, a 26-point gain.

In a conference call with reporters, College Board officials took pains to highlight the historic number of minority test takers. "We are tremendously encouraged by the increasing diversity," said College Board President Gaston Caperton. "More than ever, the SAT reflects the diversity of students in the classroom." He called that "another step toward ensuring diversity in higher education and in turn the workforce."

Despite the gaps between groups, average scores on each of the three sections—critical reading, writing, and math—remain almost unchanged since 2007. College Board officials referred to this stability as a positive characteristic of the scores, in light of the expanded diversity.

"What you're really doing is adding types of students who might not have previously thought of themselves as collegebound," said Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of the SAT program. "The fact that the scores are staying stable while you're doing that is a good sign."

The gaps in scores, the College Board says, can be explained by a more rigorous curriculum, better teaching, and better test preparation that some types of students receive.

"The SAT is a very important lens to help identify the inequities that exist so we as a society can address those," said Bunin.

But Bob Schaeffer, spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a critic of standardized tests, told USA Today that what stands out to him "is widening gaps of all sorts—race, gender, and income—at a time when the nation is spending billions of dollars allegedly trying to close those gaps. The promise of many high-stakes state testing programs is that testing is going to improve educational quality. That's not what the data show."

On an 800-point scale, the average math score on the SAT was 515. The average critical reading score was 501, and the average writing score was 493. About 1.53 million of the 3.3 million members of the high school class of 2009 took the test.

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