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Fine Print: New Jersey's SAT Profile, 2011

New Jersey's overall scores steady or improving, but not everywhere.

What it is: The College Board each year releases the mean SAT scores and other data for millions of college-bound students, broken down both nationally and state by state. The SAT scores are the most closely monitored, but the report also provides extensive data on courses and grades.

Why it matters: This year, much of the attention is on the sudden drop in the mean scores across the country, on every test, with reading scores the lowest on record. In New Jersey, the overall math score rose slightly, up two points, while reading and writing stayed the same. But the state’s public school numbers were not as promising, falling an overall 11 points on all three tests.

The numbers everyone cares about: New Jersey saw no change in its overall mean scores in reading (495) and writing (497), and the slight rise in math (516), each of them out of a maximum of 800. The reading score remains a little below the national mean (497), but the state slightly topped the national norm in both math (514) and writing (489). Still, New Jersey’s public school numbers were more troubling, falling three or four points in each of the tests, to 492 in reading, 516 in math and 494 in writing.

The top tier: New Jersey's kids in the 75th percentile are pretty much on par with the rest of the country. In reading, the mean for this group in both New Jersey and nationwide is 570; for math, it's 600. The mean in writing was slightly higher in New Jersey at 570, compared with 560 nationwide. And not surprisingly, non-public school kids continue to far surpass their public school counterparts, with the independent school scores as much as 100 points higher on each test.

The gaps persist: The achievement gap is alive and well in New Jersey's SAT scores, with the mean for black students at 418 in reading, 425 in math and 416 in writing. That's at least 100 points lower that the means for whites and even greater for Asians.

Consolation: More students appear to be taking the SAT than in past years, both in New Jersey and nationwide, an indication that more graduates are at least aspiring for college. For New Jersey, it was a 3 percent jump overall and nearly 10 percent increase among public schools.

Favorite majors: In these precarious times, health services continues to be the favorite intended college major for New Jersey graduates, listed by 15 percent of the SAT test-takers. It's followed by business (12 percent), education (8 percent), and engineering (7 percent).

Favorite colleges: New Jersey's public colleges and universities dominate the list. Forty percent applied to Rutgers, 17 percent to Montclair State University, and close to 15 percent to the College of New Jersey.

The privates: Drexel University in Philadelphia is now the most popular of the private colleges getting New Jersey applications, with almost 10 percent of New Jersey test-takers applying. It is followed, in order, by Monmouth University, Rider University, and a tie between Johns Hopkins University and New York University. New Jersey’s own Seton Hall University dropped off the top five list among privates.

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