Students across the country are scoring lower on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but Penn and College Board officials alike say there is no reason to worry.
According to College Board spokesperson Caren Scoropanos, there is the possibility of a four to five point decline on average on the SATs, a standardized test designed to measure a high school student’s intellectual abilities which are a key to college admissions decisions.
But Penn officials say they noticed a decrease in SAT scores even before the College Board reported it.
When applications first began arriving at the admissions office in November, Dean of Admissions Lee Stetson thought he had tapped into a different pool of students because the SAT scores coming in were much lower than the previous year.
After noticing the decline in the fall, “we asked the College Board if they saw a drop in standard scores,” Stetson said. “They initially said that there was no change…but [they] recently announced that scores have gone down.”
According to Stetson, the fact that scores across the country have gone down is a reflection of the test itself, not of the quality of students applying to Penn.
For example, Stetson said that fewer students are retaking the test than in past years, probably because the new SAT which now includes an essay and an algebra II section now costs test-takers $41.50, whereas the older version cost $28.50.
In the past, students who retook the test scored 30 points higher the second time, according to Scoropanos.
And while Penn’s class of 2010 averaged about five points lower than the class of 2009, Stetson called this decline “very negligible” and said it bore no effect on acceptance decisions.
SAT tutoring agencies likewise attach little significance to the reported decline, instead blaming the SAT’s new features for the change in score.
The Princeton Review a common test preparatory organization attributes the score decrease to the exam’s longer length. The new SAT takes about four hours, whereas the old one took about three.
“Students are much more used to multi-tasking and doing five things at a time, like surfing the web, instant-messaging, and doing homework all at the same time,” said Drew Deutsch, vice president of online learning at Princeton Review. “They’re not used to sitting still for such a long period of time.”
Other tutoring services, like Advantage Testing, say that the fact that the test is new and more complex drove scores down.
“With the changes to the SAT, it must have been difficult for [test administrators] to calibrate the new test perfectly,” said Ravi Boppana, a spokesperson for Advantage Testing. “Some initial variation in average score was to be expected.”
Neither agency says that there is any need to modify its respective tutorial materials in response to the reported decline.
But the College Board will not say if the new test is at fault. In fact, research conducted by the College Board shows that scores have been irregular long before the test was modified last year.
“It is common for fluctuation to occur,” said Scoropanos.
Aside from a six point increase in 2003, this year’s difference in score is the largest in the past 10 years.