Stagnant U.S. SAT scores outpace Idaho

UPDATED, 3:09 p.m., with statement from State Board of Education.

Stagnant national scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test represent a “call to action,” according to the group that administers the test.

Even so, the national scores far outpace Idaho student scores on the college entrance exam.

According to a study released Thursday by the College Board, only 43 percent of students who took the SAT are college-ready. That percentage has remained virtually unchanged for five years.

Numbers and reaction

Key figures from Thursday’s report, and from Idaho’s recent SAT reports:

  • 1,550. For the College Board’s purposes, this is the magic number defining college readiness. (The SAT measures students on math, writing and critical reading; the maximum score in each discipline is 800, so a perfect score is 2,400.)
  • 65 percent. Students who score at least a 1,550 on the SAT have a 65 percent chance of maintaining at least a B-minus average in their first year of college, according to Thursday report. These students also are more likely to stay in college and complete their degree.
  • 1,349: Idaho’s average student score on the April 2012 SAT. This score is an important benchmark, because it largely represents the class of 2013 — the focus of Thursday’s College Board report. About one quarter of these students met the college- and career-ready mark, State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said.
  • 1,350: Idaho’s average SAT score in April 2013, virtually unchanged from 2012.

“With our country struggling to compete in the global marketplace — and with millions of skilled jobs left unfilled — there is a heightened focus on understanding how our students are performing academically and in ensuring that they are college and career ready,” the College Board said in Thursday’s report. “While some might see stagnant scores as no news, the College Board considers them a call to action.”

Encouraging test-takers

State and national policymakers face a dilemma. They want to encourage more students to take college placement exams, to help set the stage for pursuing a postsecondary degree. But when more students take a test such as the SAT, this increases the student sample size and tends to bring down overall scores.

Idaho’s April scores reflect performance on “SAT day,” when high school juniors can take the exam free of charge. Idaho students must take a college entrance exam in order to graduate from high school; they are not required to take the SAT, but only the SAT is offered for free.

A record 17,306 Idaho high school juniors took the SAT in April, the second year of the SAT day program. Before the state entered a contract with the College Board to cover SAT costs, only about 3,000 Idaho students took the test annually.

The College Board — the nonprofit group that has administered the SAT since 1926 — hailed “SAT day” programs in place in Idaho, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

“Enabling students to take the SAT for free during the school day ensures that promising students who might otherwise face barriers to standard Saturday testing — such as part-time jobs or family responsibilities — do not miss out on a chance at the college-going process,” the College Board said in Thursday’s report.

In a joint statement Thursday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and State Board of Education President Don Soltman downplayed the state’s test scores, and touted the fact that Idaho has the highest percentage of students taking the SAT.

“Ensuring that high school graduates are college and career ready is a critical first step to meeting the State Board’s goal to see that 60 percent of Idaho citizens between the ages of 25-34 attain a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020,” said Soltman. “Providing students with the opportunity to take a college entrance exam helps them identify areas where they need additional preparation.”

One bright spot from Thursday’s report: a record 46 percent of test-takers were minority students. Hispanic students made up 17 percent of test-takers.

Dive deeper into the data: Take a look at Idaho SAT Day scores by school district or by high school.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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