SAT score changes by race since 1996

The oldest SAT score report on the College Board website is from 1996, right after the “recentering” in 1995 that raised scores about 100 points on a 400 to 1600 scale. Over the last 15 years, the average overall score on the original two-part Verbal + Math SAT (i.e., ignoring the new-fangled Writing section of the test introduced in the last decade) fell a grand total of two points, from 1013 to 1011. (See what I mean about baseball statistics being more volatile?)

1996 v. 2011 College-Bound Seniors Avg SAT Scores


Total (V+M)

Verbal

Math

1996

2011

Chg

1996

2011

Chg

1996

2011

Chg

ALL

1013

1011

(2) 

505

497

(8) 

508

514

6

Female

995

995

0

503

495

(8) 

492

500

8

Male

1034

1031

(3) 

507

500

(7) 

527

531

4

Asian

1054

1112

58

496

517

21

558

595

37

White

1049

1063

14

526

528

2

523

535

12

Black

856

855

(1) 

434

428

(6)

422

427

5

AmerIndian

960

972

12

483

484

1

477

488

11

Mexican

914

917

3

455

451

(4)

459

466

7

PR

897

904

7

452

452

0

445

452

7

Other Hisp

931

913

(18)

465

451

(14)

466

462

(4)

 

You`ll note that the average white score went up 14 points from 1049 to 1063. Did white people get smarter over that period? I don`t know. The SAT changed a lot over those 15 years, with analogies being dropped and some Verbal multiple choice questions being exiled to Writing. Also, kids appear to have cared more about prepping in 2011, although the College Board doesn`t like to talk about this.

Asians went up 58 points, which is pretty striking. Everybody else fell farther behind whites, which wasn`t supposed to happen.

Now, it could be that scores actually did pretty well over this 15 year stretch, because the College Board scraped the bottom of the barrel harder. In 1996, 1,085,000 college-bound seniors took the SAT. In 2011, there were 1,647,000 senior SAT-takers. Just between 2006 and 2011, the College Board let an incremental 150,000 students take the SAT free or at reduced cost.

On the other hand, my impression is that it became a lot more common for students to take both the SAT and ACT over that 15-year stretch, so some of the increase in the number of test-takers comes from people who would only have taken the ACT in 1996. It used to be that East and West Coasters took the SAT and Midwesterners the ACT, but by 2011, lots of students try both to see which one they`ll do better on. These kids who take both tests probably tend to be fairly ambitious ones who are looking to game the system by taking both tests, then submitting only the test score they did better upon. So, double-dippers likely scored reasonably well (although, of course, not so 2400 / 36 outstanding that they wouldn`t bother taking any test again).

(Has anybody recently done an authoritative study of the trend in overall SAT scores considering all the factors driving scores up or down?)

Between 1996 and 2011, everybody except Other Hispanics got a little better in Math. (I suspect that Other Hispanics used to be mostly Cubans and random fairly well-to-do South Americans, but now it includes a lot of Central Americans.) But Asians got a lot better: 37 points, from 558 to 595.

Verbal scores stagnated or declined slightly, except for Asians, who went up 21 points from 496 to 517. 

Now, let`s look at scores relative to the white scores in 1996 and 2011. A decade and a half ago, the overall score for everybody was 36 points lower than the white score. Today, it`s 52 points lower. Most of that 16 points of relative decline is due to the demographic composition of America`s SAT-takers changing for the worse.

 

 

Difference v. whites
Total (V+M)
1996 2011 Chg
ALL 36 52 (16)
Female 54 68 (14)
Male 15 32 (17)
Asian 5 49 44
White 0 0 0
Black 193 208 (15)
AmerIndian 89 91 (2)
Mexican 135 146 (11)
PR 152 159 (7)
Other Hisp 118 150 (32)

The Gap got worse for most of the minority groups that the press gets worked up over. Blacks fell from 193 points behind whites to 208 points (a 15 point relative decline, or a point per year). Mexicans fell from 135 lower to 146 lower. Other Hispanics fell the most, from 118 behind to 150 behind.

These declines are probably mostly due to society (especially the College Board) scraping the bottom of the barrel harder in 2011. What with the recession and all, everybody is convinced that they must go to college, so they try the SAT. The number of people who scored below 400 on Verbal grew from 179,000 to 302,000 and on Math from 172,000 to 251,000.

The number who scored 700 or higher also shot upwards, but that might be due in part to kids taking the SAT more times or taking both the SAT and ACT to see if they can shoot the moon. The number scoring 700 or higher on Verbal went up from 47,000 to 77,000 and on Math from 58,000 to 112,000. High scorers are presumably the most likely to do a lot of test prep and otherwise try to game the system.

In contrast to all other ethnic groups, who fell farther behind whites over the last 15 years, Asians had a 5 point advantage over whites in 1996, which blossomed to a 49 point lead by 2011, a relative change of 44 points. That`s a big change, relative to the near-stasis on everything else.