Assessment

College Board Assessment Results Show Greater Participation, Big Gaps

The College Board has released its program results for the year, which encompass multiple assessments: the PSAT/NMSQT, SAT and AP exams. The national numbers show that across the board more students are participating. However; some racial and ethnic groups show considerably less readiness for college and career than others.

For the SAT, an indicator of college readiness, 1.7 million students from the class of 2015 took the test, up from 1.67 million students in 2014. Nearly 42 percent of 2015 SAT participants met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark, signifying that they're more likely to enroll in a four-year college and graduate on time than those who don't meet the benchmark.

Performance on the SAT ranged dramatically between the students in the uppermost range and those in the lowest range. In critical reading, the average score for the 75th percentile was 570; for the 25th percentile it was 410; the overall mean was 495. In math, the higher percentile had an average score of 590; the lower percentile had an average score of 510; the overall mean was 511. In writing, the 75th percentile average score was 560; it was 400 for the 25th percentile; the overall mean was 484.

While 61 percent of Asian students and 53 percent of white students met the SAT benchmark, only 16 percent of African American students, 23 percent of Hispanic students and 33 percent of Native American students did the same.

The PSAT/NMSQT measures a similar knowledge domain as the SAT, but for students in grades 10 and 11. According to the data experts at the College Board, the results from this set of exams are "the best predictor" of a student's potential to succeed in certain AP courses. In fall 2014, 3.8 million students took that test, up from 3.7 million in 2013. Among 10th grade participants, 39 percent met the grade-level benchmark, indicating that they were on track for college and career readiness. About 520,000 10th-grade participants overall showed potential to succeed in at least one AP course. And nearly 48 percent of 11th-grade test-takers met the grade-level benchmark.

Again, the bad news here is that certain groups came in with dramatically lower scores. Among 10th graders, whereas 61.5 percent of Asian students and 55 percent of white students met the grade-level benchmark, only 17 percent of African American students, 20 percent of Hispanic students and 25 percent of Native American students did. Among 11th graders, the counts were higher across the board: 65 percent of Asian students and 61 percent of white students met the benchmark. But 22 percent of African American students, 25 percent of Hispanic students and 34 percent of Native American students did so.

AP exams, from the Advanced Placement program, test student learning from college-level course work taken while still in high school, which can save them money and time toward a college degree. In 2015 2.5 million students took an AP exam compared to 2.3 million in 2014. During 2015, more than 1.5 million students received a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam, compared to 1.4 million in 2014.

The College Board has been busy rebuilding its roster. In October, the organization will administer the newly redesigned PSAT/NMSQT exams and introduce the PSAT 8/9. By March 2016, it will introduce a new PSAT 10 and SAT. The purpose of those reworks is to focus on skills that matter in college and career success.

A parallel track has been taking place with AP course frameworks and exams to put the focus on depth over breadth and give teachers and students more time to develop the knowledge and skills required in college course work. The redesigned courses and assessments will launch on a rolling basis. Redesigned courses and exams in AP art history and AP European history, along with a new course, AP Capstone, are in place for the current school year.

The organization also gave status reports on aspects of its programs. "SAT School Day," which lets juniors and seniors take the SAT in their schools on a regular school day, has seen growth right alongside the number of students meeting the college readiness benchmark and gaining access to college. Some geographic regions have seen significant increases in performance with this expanded access. In Washington, D.C., for example, the percentage of African American public school students in the class of 2015 meeting the SAT Benchmark has held steady even as the number of students taking the SAT has increased by a quarter. In Delaware, since the introduction of SAT School Day, Hispanic/Latino performance has risen from 8 percent in 2013 to 10 percent in 2014 and nearly 11 percent in 2015, as participation has grown.

Uniform implementation of AP credits is also getting more attention from states. The College Board said that as of August 2015 17 states had put policies in place to ensure unified and consistent recognition of AP credits among public colleges and universities. Most recently, those new policies have surfaced in Illinois, Texas and Virginia.

Science as an area of focus is gaining momentum. In their first years both AP Physics 1 and 2 have shown greater growth than any other AP course ever offered, according to the College Board. As Vice President of AP and Instruction, Trevor Packer, noted, the launch of those classes "attracted nearly double the number of high school students to enroll in algebra-based AP Physics classes." He added that demand for AP Computer Science A and the forthcoming AP Computer Science Principles is high. "These results show that America's students are eager to take on the challenge of STEM."

Even as the latest round of results is undergoing scrutiny by educators in high schools and higher ed, the authors of one report reminded people that the many data points rolling out from the College Board "are more than just numbers. They represent the hard work of high school students — and indicate their level of readiness for college and future careers. Our students' efforts are worth celebrating, and their challenges must be recognized and systematically addressed and overcome."

To review the program results, visit the College Board site.

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