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SAT SCORES DROP FOR CLASS OF 2006: Observers Question Whether Longer Tests and Test-Taker Fatigue Are to Blame for Lower Scores

“Research has shown that fatigue is not a factor,” a statement from the College Board reads

The Class of 2006 posted an average SAT score of 1021 out of 1600, a number that was seven points lower than the composite score in math and reading for last year’s high school graduates (see the chart below for results for the last five years). According to a new report from the College Board, the organization that sponsors the test, mathematics scores dropped by two points and critical reading scores decreased by three points.

This year’s results are the first to include scores on the recently added writing section of the SAT. While the writing test was administered three times in the spring of 2005, it was not reflected in last year’s report. Some observers have pointed to the writing test and the additional time needed to take it as a reason for the lower scores. On the new test, students are given forty-five additional minutes to take the longer version, which, in addition to the writing component, also includes more advanced math and a revamped reading section that uses longer passages to test comprehension. When time on administrative matters is included, most students spend nearly five hours at their designated test center on the day of the test.

In its report, the College Board was quick to dispel the notion that fatigue could play a factor in the lower scores. “Research has shown that fatigue is not a factor,” a statement from the College Board reads. “A College Board analysis of the performance of more than 700,000 test-takers on the critical reading and mathematics sections during the spring and fall 2005 SAT administrations showed no difference in student performance.” Instead, the College Board points out that fewer students are taking the SAT a second time. In the past, students who take the test a second time see an average increase of 30 points on their combined score.

In an article in Education Week, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass.-based critic of the standardized-testing industry, points out that many test-takers could have been deterred from taking the SAT a second time by the higher cost for the new test, which is $41.50, compared to $29.50 for the old test. According to the College Board, 54 percent of students reported an annual family income of $60,000 or higher, compared to 11 percent who reported an income below $20,000, the 2006 federal poverty guideline for a family of four.

About 1.45 million students took the SAT during the 2005–06 school year. Of that total, 54 percent were female and 46 percent were male. Overall males (1,041) posted a higher composite score than female students (1,004), but female students scored higher than males by 11 points on the writing portion. Among student subgroups, Asian-American students posted the highest composite score (1,088), followed by white students (1,063), American-Indian students (981), and African-American students (863). The report broke down scores for Hispanic students into Mexican or Mexican-American students (919), Puerto Rican students (915), and Other Hispanic students (921).

Complete national results, as well as individual state results, are available at

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