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National Data

Members of the graduating class of 2014 who took the SAT had an average composite ( the total of critical reading, mathematics and writing) score of 1,497 out of a possible 2,400.

Ethnic breakdown, average composite SAT critical reading, math and writing scores:

  • Asian/Pacific Islander:  1,651
  • Black: 1,278
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: 1,428
  • Hispanic: 1,353
  • White: 1,576

Members of the graduating class of 2014 who took the ACT had an average English score of 20.3, an average math score of 20.9, an average reading score of 21.3, and an average science score of 20.8. The national average composite ACT score was 21.0 out of a possible 36 each.

Average ACT composite score by ethnicity:

  • Asian/Pacific Islander: 23.5
  • Black: 17.0
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: 18.0
  • Hispanic: 18.8
  • White: 22.2

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems offers a state by state analysis of high ACT and SAT Scores (80th Percentile and Above) for the year 2007 as well.

The College Board also breaks down AP test data by individual states and other student demographics, like income and race. The most recent scores are from 2013.

Data Source

The College Board makes national and state SAT data available in its report College-Bound Seniors 2014. The College Board gives high schools having more than twenty-five students taking the SAT a free report containing basic performance data. More detailed information on a school or district’s SAT results, including student course-taking patterns and college plans, must be purchased from the College Board. Information on those reports can be found at College-Bound Seniors Reports: K–12.

ACT Inc. has the latest national and state scores available in the National Scores section of its website. The company also sells detailed reports on ACT performance of a specific school or district.

Summary

There are two major college admission exams: SAT and ACT. They are typically taken by high school juniors and seniors and used by colleges and universities to inform admissions decisions.

The SAT Reasoning Test assesses reading, writing, and math skills.

The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test consisting of separate exams in English, reading, math, and science, plus an optional writing exam.

How to Use the Data

The results of college admissions exams can be used to see how well students are prepared for higher education. The College Board Research Report No. 2001-2, Predicting Success in College: SAT Studies of Classes Graduating Since 1980, provides research showing that students who have high SAT/ACT scores perform better during their first year of college. In addition, the number of SAT/ACT test-takers is itself an indicator of how many students intend to go to college.

How the details were measured

SAT is scored on a scale of 200 to 800, while ACT uses a scale of 1 to 36. The data can be broken down by race, income, and gender.

Limitations of the data

You should be sure to understand who is taking college admissions tests if you are using them as measures of high school quality. Because neither SAT nor ACT test a representative sample of students, scores may go up or down depending on the population of students who took the exam. In some schools, only college-intending students take the exams. In such cases, SAT/ACT scores may provide information about a school’s high-achieving students but they probably don’t say much about the school as a whole. Typically, as the pool of test-takers expands, the overall average scores are expected to decline because of the inclusion of low-achieving test-takers. For this reason, when examining SAT/ACT scores, it’s important to also look at the proportion of the student population taking the test to gauge how well it reflects your high school program. Generally, the higher the proportion of test-takers, the stronger the score is as an indicator of school quality.

Some states, including Illinois and Colorado, are now administering college admission tests to all high school students, so in those states the scores are good measures for evaluating high schools.

Key Questions to Ask

Is my state an SAT or ACT state?

College and university use of SAT/ACT for admissions varies by state. While a small number of students take both tests, the majority will take the exam preferred in their state, making that exam a stronger indicator of high school quality. This table shows which test dominates in your state.

How are our student subgroups doing?

SAT/ACT scores can be broken down to look at the performance and test-taking gaps between students of different economic and racial backgrounds. Examining this data is important for understanding the performance of all students within your school or district.

What programs and classes prepare students best for college entrance exams?

Because college admission exams ask students about their academic experiences in high school, the data can be used to examine the efficacy of school courses and programs. For example, The College Board provides data on SAT mathematics scores and math courses taken, and this data shows that students who took  advanced math courses (i.e., Algebra II, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, or Calculus) had higher math scores than those students who did not. Furthermore, The College Board also found a strong link between the skills measured in the Critical Reading and Writing sections of the SAT and high school curriculum and instruction practices. ACT has shown the relationship between high school course-taking, ACT scores, and college readiness.

Who took the test?

When using the exam as a measure for your school or district’s performance, it’s important to know who took which exam in addition to how well your students performed on the exam. As stated earlier, in some schools only high-performing students take college admission exams, while in others all students are required to take the test. Although the test is aimed to predict college success, it is designed to measure a student’s ability, not just what a student knows. However, there is a strong correlation between SAT/ACT test scores and high school course-taking.  For these reasons, college admissions scores should be used with care as a measure of school performance.

Learn More

Most selective colleges and universities require students to take either the SAT or ACT as part of the college admissions process. More than a million students take at least one exam each year, with SAT having a slight edge in the number of test-takers. Both the College Board and ACT Inc. charge students to take the exams—anywhere from $20 to $50 per assessment—and the exams vary from two to four hours in length. Results for both assessment programs are released annually.

SAT was first administered in 1901. Originally, the word SAT was an abbreviation for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Now the test is simply called SAT. The College Board developed the reasoning exam to predict college success. “SAT assesses how well you analyze and solve problems—skills that you develop over years of schooling and in your outside reading and study,” explains the College Board. The SAT has some critics. Richard Atkinson, a noted psychologist who once served as the president of the University of California system, has argued that the SAT Reasoning Test should be eliminated as an admissions requirement. He believes the exam does not measure student learning and creates a high-stakes, high-stress learning environment. In response to its critics, the College Board has made some changes to the exam, including the addition of a writing assessment.

The University of Iowa developed the American College Testing Program in the 1950s. It was designed to examine a student’s command of the high school curriculum. The exam is currently administered by ACT Inc. and is now called ACT. The company has commissioned a number of research studies to look at how the exam predicts future success and how using ACT scores can impact racial and ethnic groups in college admissions. More information on ACT research is available in ACT Inc.’s Research and Policy Issues page.

To find out which states have more students taking the SAT or ACT, see this table from a research study partially titled State Preferences for the ACT versus SAT.

Some states have also taken steps to develop their own college admission exam. Michigan, for instance, has implemented the Michigan Merit Exam. This assessment is administered to all high school juniors and consists of three components: The ACT college entrance examination, the WorkKeys® job skills assessments in reading and math, and the Michigan assessments in math, science, and writing. Other states, such as Colorado, Kentucky and Illinois, require all high school juniors to take the ACT.

Additional Resources

Demonstrating success: Middle colleges make a difference for struggling high school students in Guilford County, N.C.—North Carolina’s middle colleges help disengaged and disillusioned students find the right path. This unique environment helps students acclimate to higher standards and become engaged in school again and motivated to learn.