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SAT scores edge down; ACT now more popular exam

NEW YORK — Average national scores on two of the three sections of the SAT college entrance exam edged down for the high school class of 2012, which was the first in which more students took the rival ACT exam than the SAT.

The ACT narrowly surpassed the SAT, by fewer than 2,000 test-takers. But the crossover is no surprise.

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The number taking the ACT — historically more popular in the central states with the SAT more popular on the East and West coasts — has been growing more rapidly, partly because the ACT is now taken by virtually all students in nine states under the state testing regimen.

Delaware is the only state with 100 percent SAT participation, though in most Northeastern states participation is at least 75 percent.

Because of the wide geographic variations in participation, comparisons among average state scores are not considered meaningful.

Nationally, average scores on the critical reading and writing sections of the SAT fell one point each, to 496 and 488, respectively, while math scores were steady at 514, indicating stagnant achievement overall in a gradually widening and increasingly diverse pool of test-takers. The maximum score on each section is 800, and 360 students nationwide scored a perfect 2,400.

The College Board, the nonprofit membership organization of schools and colleges that owns the exam, also said in its annual SAT report Monday that 43 percent of test-takers met a benchmark score indicating a 65 percent likelihood they can achieve a B-minus average during the first year of college. The figure was unchanged from a year ago.

Males continued to score slightly better on critical reading and math, and females better on writing.

This year’s SAT figures also continued to show substantial gaps between racial groups. Asian-Americans, for instance, scored on average 595 in math — 59 points higher than white students and 167 higher than black students.

The College Board on Monday also released its report on college and career readiness, which found that only 43 percent of SAT takers in the class of 2012 graduated from high school sufficiently prepared for success in college.

Those findings were based on the percentage of students in the class who met the SAT benchmark associated with higher rates of enrollment in four-year colleges, higher first-year college grades, and higher rates of retention beyond the first year.

An SAT benchmark score of 1550 indicates a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B average or higher during the first year of study at a four-year college, the board said.

‘‘This report should serve as a call to action to expand access to rigor for more students,’’ said College Board president Gaston Caperton.

‘‘Our nation’s future depends on the strength of our education system. When less than half of kids who want to go to college are prepared to do so, that system is failing. We must make education a national priority and deliver rigor to more students.’’

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