Maryland public school students’ SAT scores edged past the national average last year, according to data released Tuesday by the College Board.
The SAT scores set a new baseline for the state, after the national college readiness test underwent sweeping changes that altered the format of the exam. The high school graduating class of 2017 marked the first time a majority of students tested under the new format, which made the essay section optional and did not penalize students for wrong answers, among other tweaks.
Maryland public school students averaged a score of 528, out of a possible 800, in the English-language arts section and averaged 518 points in math. Both of these scores were 1 point higher than the national averages.
The College Board warned that these scores can’t be compared to previous years, given the broad redesign of the exam. County-by-county breakdowns for most school districts in the Baltimore region were not available by Tuesday morning, but Harford County public schools released its students' scores. Harford students averaged 564 points on the math section and 556 points in reading and writing.
“These tests serve as important steppingstones to postsecondary education for many of our students,” state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon said in a statement. “Our goal is better prepared graduates with choices — more education or a fulfilling career right after high school, and we need all of our graduates performing at a high level.”
Maryland students more widely outpaced the national average on the ACT test, which is also used by colleges to determine academic readiness but remains much less popular than the SAT in this state. The average composite ACT score went up from 22.8 out of a possible 36 in the 2015-2016 school year to 23.4 last year. The national average for the 2016-2017 school year was 21 .
Racial disparities were clear in the results of both of these exams. Asian-American students averaged the highest scores, followed by white students, Hispanic students and then black students.
For the SAT composite score, Asian students in Maryland averaged more than 200 points higher than black students, about 150 points higher than Hispanic students and 30 points above white students.
The disparities are one reason Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, finds the use of these standardized tests in college admissions to be problematic.
He said a growing number of colleges across the country are turning their backs on the traditional college entrance exams. Eleven Maryland schools, including Goucher College and Salisbury University, are among more than 950 schools nationwide that have de-emphasized the use of the SAT or ACT in admissions decisions.
“Schools in Maryland have demonstrated that you can do high-quality admissions that are fair and accurate without requiring ACT or SAT scores,” Schaeffer said.
The use of the SAT remains widespread. More than 1.8 million students in the Class of 2017 took either the old or new SAT at least once in high school.
The College Board also released preliminary data regarding Advanced Placement tests, which allow students to prove their knowledge of college-level coursework. Nearly 60,000 Maryland students took at least one AP test last year, representing an almost 3 percent increase from the year before.
Additionally, more students passed — meaning they scored a 3, 4 or 5. Many universities will give college credit to students who have passed an AP test.