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Thursday, September 26, 2013

College Board: SAT Scores Going Down As GPAs Rise

For the fifth year in a row, fewer than half of the students taking the SAT got "college ready" scores.(biologycorner/Flickr)

For the fifth year in a row, fewer than half of the students taking the SAT got “college ready” scores.(biologycorner/Flickr)

A report on this year’s SAT scores just came in, and it’s not pretty.

The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness shows that after two years of decline, the national SAT scores were flat this year.

For the fifth year in a row, the report shows that fewer than half of the students taking the test got “college ready” scores.

James Montoya, vice president of higher education for the College Board — the group that administers the SAT — joins Here & Now to discuss the findings.

(College Board)

(College Board)

(College Board)

(College Board)





The organization that administers the SAT said today that fewer than half of the people who took the exam this year are ready for college. It's the fifth year in a row for that alarming statistic. Overall, scores were flat, following two years of declines.

Joining us from New York is James Montoya, vice president of higher education for the College Board. And, James, I have to say, it's surprising to me that less than half the students taking the SAT are getting college-ready scores. But this seems to be, as we said, an ongoing problem.

JAMES MONTOYA: Well, it is. This number has remained flat for the last five years and I think really represents a call to action. We need to have more students college-ready because what we know is that those students who are college-ready actually not only enroll in college at a much higher level but complete college within four years. And it's really essential that we keep that number of students graduating each year.

One of the things that I've taken note of, and I think the public should take note of, is that while it is very clear that students who take a core curriculum in high school - and by that I mean four or more years of English, three or more years of math, three or more years of natural sciences and three or more years of social sciences and history - do better on the SAT and more of them meet the college and career benchmark.

But the fact is that of those who complete a secondary school core curriculum, only 49 percent met the benchmark. And this suggests that there must be more rigorous courses in high school and that the core courses themselves need to be more rigorous.

HOBSON: It also suggests, when you look at the year-over-year scores, the averages, that things are getting worse, not better, because if I look at, for example, in critical reading in 2006, the average being 503, and now it's 496. Same deal in math and writing. They've gone down.

MONTOYA: Well, at the same time that we have seen the scores go down, what's very interesting is that we have seen the average GPAs reported going up. So, for example, when we look at SAT test-takers this year, 48 percent reported having a GPA in the A range compared to 45 percent last year, compared to 44 percent in 2011, I think suggesting that there simply has to be more rigor in core courses.

HOBSON: Well, and maybe that there's grade inflation going on.

MONTOYA: Well, clearly, that there is grade inflation. There is no question about that. And it's one of the reasons why standardized test scores are so important in the admission office. I know that, as a former dean of admission, test scores help gauge the meaning of a GPA, particularly given the fact that nearly half of all SAT takers are reporting a GPA in the A range.

HOBSON: The racial breakdown is also pretty interesting with Asians scoring the highest on average, 1645 total, and then whites at 1576, black Americans at 1278.

MONTOYA: And, again, I think what we see is the need for there to be more African-American and Latino students completing a core curriculum. We see fewer Latino and African-Americans completing a core curriculum compared to their white and Asian cohort. Now, we were pleased to see an increase, though slight, of the number of African-Americans and Latino students who did meet the college and career benchmark.

But clearly, their numbers, 15.6 percent for African-Americans and 23.5 percent for Latino students, fall well below the 43 percent average. And I think that this is an issue that we feel must be addressed. So again, as we look forward to the work of the College Board, we see it very important that this year's report be a call to action, that we move forward quickly. What we know is that we must infuse into the daily work of our students more rigor, because it will be this rigor which leads to more practice. And more practice, of course, leads to greater achievement.

So we are very much focused on making certain that secondary school students, all students have the opportunity for more rigorous work and have the opportunity of practice within the context of rigorous work, which we believe leads to greater achievement, which leads to greater numbers of students going to college, and most important, greater numbers of students graduating from college.

HOBSON: Well - and we should say that your report noted - since you mentioned practice - that as is the case with the ACT, the students who take the rigorous prep courses do better on the SAT.

MONTOYA: One of the things that's most important is that we know that students who take the PSAT do better on the SAT. And as a former dean of admissions, the same advice I gave then as I do to students today, the best preparation for the SAT is to take a rigorous courseload in high school, to take the PSAT and to take the free practice SAT that we make available for all students. Like any other exam, greater familiarity to the test, its format and to the type of questions will only make the test easier for students.

HOBSON: I have to ask you one question, because I have you here. Why is the SAT always putting the word unscrupulous on there? Is that really such an important word?

MONTOYA: Ah. You are talking about vocabulary.


MONTOYA: Yes, you're right. It's one of those words people identify as an SAT word. All I can say is that as we move forward, one of the things we want to make absolutely certain of is that the vocabulary that students are expected to know will be vocabulary that they will be able to use as college students, and which will be valuable to them.

HOBSON: James Montoya is vice president of higher ed for the College Board, which administers the SAT. James, thanks so much for talking with us.

MONTOYA: My pleasure.

HOBSON: Well, what do you think? Is the SAT a good measure of readiness for college? Or do these falling scores tell you that maybe the SAT is no longer the best way to test students on college readiness? You can let us know at or We'll be back in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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