The percentage of New Jersey high school seniors taking the SAT continued its steady rise last year, while the average score dropped to its lowest in three years.
The 2014-2015 School Performance Reports, released earlier this month by the state Department of Education, show a statewide average score on the SAT of 1508 out of a possible 2400 for the three sections of the test. That was six points less than the previous year and four points below the score for the 2012-2013 school year.
Still, New Jersey’s students outperform the national average of 1490 on the most widely used college admissions test.
Compared with 2013-2014, last year’s average math and writing scores each dropped by three points, to 518 and 494, respectively, while the reading score remained at 496. Although the reading score was unchanged, more high schools saw an increase in the average SAT reading score than saw a decline — the reading score rose in 214 schools and dropped in 157.
At the same time as the average score dropped statewide and in a majority of high schools, the percentage of students taking the SAT rose to its highest level in at least four years. The DOE reported that 79.1 percent of 12th graders took the SAT in the past school year, up from 76.2 percent in 2013-2014, 75.3 percent in 2012-2013, and 74.4 percent in 2011-2012. It is common for scores on a test to drop when more students are tested, although in 2013-2014, both scores and the percent tested rose over the prior year.
The percentage of students taking the ACT, the other major admissions test, also rose, with more than a quarter of New Jersey seniors taking that test last year. The DOE’s SPR does not report average ACT scores, which max out at 36.
Performance on the SAT, as on other tests, is typically tied to wealth. With the rise of magnet schools for high-achieving students at county vocational schools, these now tend to top test-score rankings and that was the case last year.
At six high schools, the average SAT totaled more than 2000, with the highest score — 2247 — at Morris County Vocational’s Academy for Mathematics, Science and Engineering. The highest score for a traditional high school was 1873 at Princeton Regional.
The lowest average scores were in the state’s cities and urban areas. Three schools reported SAT totals below 1000: Barringer High in Newark had a 940, Woodrow Wilson High in Camden had a 963, and the School of Architecture and Construction Trades in Paterson had a 972.
State officials also keep track of the percentage of students scoring at least 1550 on the SAT. According to the SPR, that benchmark “indicates a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during the first year of college” and that is “indicative of a high likelihood of college success and completion.” Statewide, that percentage dropped slightly, from 44.6 percent of all takers scoring 1550 or better in 2013-2014 to 43.8 percent last year. At five of the vocational academies, all seniors hit that benchmark, while in 13 urban high schools — including one vocational and two charters — none did.
It’s unclear how the state will report these scores next year. The College Board made substantial changes to the test this year: Reading and writing were merged into a single section with an optional essay, the maximum score is back to the old level of 1600, and there is no longer a penalty for guessing. The new format took effect in March. The last time the three-section test was given was in January.