SAT reading scores hit 40-year low

SAT reading scores hit the lowest level since 1972 and writing scores dropped as well, College Board reports. Math scores have improved.

Only 43 percent of 2012 graduates who took the SAT are prepared to succeed in college, estimates College Board.  That is, 43 percent scored 1550 out of 2400, indicating a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during the first year at a four-year college.

More students — including more from low-income, less-educated and immigrant families — are taking the SAT, which tends to push scores down.

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  1. Katie Jones says:

    That’s great that math scores improved but unfortunate about reading scores. Reading, like math, is an important skill and lack of reading skills makes it harder to learn.

  2. So, basically, 43% of students managed a 65% on the test. I wonder what percentage actually did well? I know more kids are taking the SATs these days, but even so, that is pathetic.

    • What percentage of kids do you expect to be prepared (both intellectually and by teaching/training) to succeed in a 4-year college?

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        If 43% of students graduating (not just those taking the SAT) were prepared for a 4 year college, I’d be pleased. If we could assume that the other 57% were adequate for either a 2 year school, trade school, or job training then I’d be in heaven.

        43% of those taking the SAT is pretty awful because most of them have college ambition.

        Currently fewer than 35% of Americans have 4 year degrees or better (masters, Phd). If we were able to increase that to 43% with the stipulation that standards weren’t lowered (lower than they currently are) then that would be a huge improvement.

        • But do you think it is possible for 43% of the population (which means pretty much everyone with an IQ above about 105) to be able to get a 4-year degree without watering down the standards?

          I get that you’d like it to be the case. But do you think it is possible?

    • So, basically, 43% of students managed a 65% on the test.

      No. The SAT is a norm-referenced standardized test. The test-takers’ performance is compared to the normed sample’s performance. It does not mean the students got 65% of the items correct.

      It would be more accurate to say that the SAT benchmark score was achieved by those students who scored at or above the 57th percentile.

  3. This should not be a surprise to anyone who follows education. The scores are showing that many students aren’t ready for college level coursework, and for those students who are not ready, the community college may or may not fill the gap.

    Given that the literacy level in the U.S. is about at the 8th grade level (which is where it has been since the 1970’s), it’s not a stretch to see SAT/ACT results like this.


  4. The SAT is taken by only those Midwestern kids applying to colleges on the coasts or to very elite schools, which tend to be the strongest students. If those Midwestern kids who now take only the ACT were to take the SAT, the SAT averages would probably be lower.

    The chickens have come home to roost; inadequate (or absent) grammar and composition instruction and inadequate quantities of watered-down academic materials across the whole curriculum

    • Most colleges will accept the ACT with writing rathe r than the SAT + SAT II subject tests. It’s just as likely that students who score highly when they first take the ACT don’t bother to take the SAT.

      The chickens have come home to roost; inadequate (or absent) grammar and composition instruction and inadequate quantities of watered-down academic materials across the whole curriculum

      I don’t know. Everyone can have a pet theory. Students read much less than they did in 1970. Whole language and grammar-less instruction no doubt bear some of the blame, but I think each student’s personal decision to read or not read outside of school has an influence on his SAT score. A child who reads one book 175 pages long each week outside of school from 2nd grade on will have read 100100 pages of text independently by the time he takes the SAT. It is unrealistic to blame schools for the scores of students who choose to do no pleasure reading outside of school.

      • My youngest two attended two different Midwestern high schools (two different states) and had elite sports teammates who attended a whole variety of other schools, both public and private. Most of the top students took only the SAT and most of the weaker students took only the ACT, so I still think it’s likely that the Midwestern SATs skew to the upper end.

        I agree with you about the significance of outside, unassigned reading, but the average amount of assigned reading seems to have declined dramatically since I entered HS in the early 60s, particularly in the last couple of decades. My small-town HS college prep reading requirements for history were significant and for English were extensive (as were the writing, including research papers). I was prepared for my college freshman reading load of close to 1000 pages per week; two sciences with lab manuals, one 20th-century French play, one or two Greek plays in English and two social sciences. I’m betting that today’s college population would drop like a rock if the requirements were anywhere near that.

        A close relative now teaches college prep and IB English at a good suburban-DC school and her regular college prep freshmen refuse to do any reading assignments outside of class and friends teaching at other, similar schools say the same. If they were taught grammar or composition in ES-MS, they didn’t learn either. Their SAT scores reflect both problems. The IB kids do much more work in HS and do much better on the SAT.

        • That might have been because the ACT wasn’t accepted everywhere. I’m not sure it’s any weaker. It’s different, for sure. I believe it’s a bit shorter.

          The top students that I know here in the midwest only took the ACT w/ writing because most of the big schools on the coasts accept it now.

          • The math section of the ACT is more straightforward, even though it tests higher level content. The SAT-M mostly tests middle-school level material, but often the questions seem designed to “trick” students.

        • Um, you really don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sure you are describing what your kids did accurately, but they apparently did so because no one around them had a clue.

          You should avoid making any statements about either the ACT or SAT that aren’t prefaced by the words “I am completey ignorant about these tests, but now let me pretend to know what I’m talking about.”

          Back when schools weren’t accepting both tests (which hasn’t been true for 5 years or more), the ACT was accepted by more schools. Elite schools have accepted both for 20 years or more with the possible exception of Princeton.

          As for your “causes” of the lower scores, they, too are wrong. We are forcing the low ability kids to take the test. If we’d done that 40 years ago, we’d have had even lower scores.

          • It is indeed good to know that God’s in Heaven and all’s well with American education, but I do hope that you’ve ordered yourself a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. If I were a pessimist, I would instead hope that you don’t behave towards your students the way you do to your peers.