New SAT generates lower scores

The college entrance exam was revised this year, and the first round of scores are the lowest since 1975.

By New SAT generates lower scores
Published August 29, 2006

The high school class of 2006, the first to take the new, longer version of the SAT, fared worse on the college entrance exam than any graduating class since 1975.

The average combined reading and math score dropped seven points, to 1021, College Board officials said Tuesday.

The average score in Florida fell three points, keeping the state near the bottom nationally.

Still, Gov. Jeb Bush and other education officials said they are pleased that a record number of state students, including minorities, took the exam. A total of 94,601 Florida high school graduates sat for the test, a participation rate of 63 percent.

Education Commissioner John Winn said that high rate might have contributed to the state’s declining score.

“We’ll be looking for answers,” said Winn, who said the expanded pool of test-takers likely included weaker students than in previous years.

The nonprofit College Board, which manages the SAT, said 1.5-million students took the test nationally. Each section of the exam is scored on a scale of 200 to 800.

The average critical reading score fell from 508 to 503, while math dropped from 520 to 518. That was the largest decline for the verbal portion of the test since 1975 and the biggest drop for math since 1978.

Florida’s average scores dropped two points to 496 in reading and one point to 497 in math, for a 993 total. That left Florida in 48th place nationally, tied with Pennsylvania among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Only South Carolina, at 985, and Georgia, at 990, had lower scores.

This year’s results are the first to include the test’s new writing section, and shorter math and reading portions. The exam also had higher-level math problems and no more analogies.

The revised test runs about three and a half hours, not including breaks, or 45 minutes longer than the previous format. The price of the test also went up, from $28.50 to $41.50.

“There’s just so many variables in play this year, with it being restructured as far as content, the length of time to take it,” said University of Florida admissions director Zina Evans.

Shane Handal, 18, a graduate of Tampa’s Newsome High School, took the SAT twice, scoring 1,050 the second time.

“I don’t understand why people are complaining about it,” said Handal, who attends the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “It’s basically the same test, just with the added essay. If you’re going to be there for six hours, the extra hour doesn’t really matter.”

But officials said the new format was a factor in the lower scores.

“When a new test is introduced, students usually vary their test-taking behavior in a variety of ways and this affects scores,” said College Board president Gaston Caperton.

Many colleges said last year they would still accept scores from the old SAT as the new exam was rolled out.
That prompted some students to take the test early in their junior year and avoid the new exam. Some waited to take the exam until later in their senior year, which may have precluded them from retesting.

Students who take the test a second time typically boost their score by 30 points.

USF’s average SAT dropped from 1135 last fall to 1131 this fall for all four campuses, said admissions director J. Robert Spatig. On the Tampa campus, average scores fell one point, to 1133.

“The writing really burns your brain out,” USF St. Petersburg student Andrea Patterson, 18, said of the new SAT.

“When it comes time to take the rest of the test, you’re so tired.”

One bright spot in the day’s disappointing news: The number of minority high school students taking the test in Florida rose from 39 percent in 1999 to 44 percent in 2006.

African-American students comprised 14 percent of the 2006 test takers in Florida, compared to 11 percent nationwide. Hispanic students comprised 21 percent of test-takers, compared to 11 percent nationwide.

The 2006 results come as the College Board faces criticism over 4,000 incorrectly scored exams last year. Also just two weeks ago, the rival ACT exam reported its biggest score increase in 20 years.

In fact, migration to the ACT might explain the decrease in students who took the SAT more than once this year. More students are taking both the SAT and ACT to try to improve their applications to selective colleges.

The number taking the SAT in this year’s class declined slightly to about 1.47-million, while the number taking the ACT rose slightly, to 1.2-million.

“I tell a lot of my friends to take the ACT over the SAT,” said Patterson. She took both the SAT and ACT. “With the SAT, if you have a wrong answer they take a fraction of a point off. With the ACT, they don’t penalize you,” she said.

Times staff writer Donna Winchester and researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.