After two years of slight declines, SAT scores held steady this year, according to a report released Tuesday by the College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the exam.
The average scores for the three sections of the exam were identical for the classes of 2007 and 2008: 502 in the critical-reading section, 515 in mathematics, and 494 in writing.
Scores for each section range from 200 to 800. The average composite score, on a scale of 600 to 2400, was 1511 for both classes.
The number of test takers was more than 1.5 million, an 8 percent increase from five years ago and a 29.5 percent increase from 10 years ago.
While girls continued to narrow the gender gap in math, their average score was still 33 points lower than the score for boys, which was 533.
In critical reading, girls have closed the gap to four points, compared with seven points 10 years ago. The average score in critical reading for boys was 504.
Girls outscore boys on the writing test — the difference this year was 13 points. The average score for girls in writing was 501.
Traditionally the biggest performance gap is between blacks and whites, and this year the gap on the three sections — reading, math, and writing — was 303 points. The gap between the wealthiest and poorest students was 356 points on the three tests. And the gap between those whose parents have the least and most education is the largest of all: 387 points.
“It happens every year,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who believes a student’s family background should be considered in college admissions. “That’s an Achilles’ heel of the SAT — kids from higher income families uniformly do better than those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Asked about the racial and socioeconomic gaps, College Board officials said they reflected similar gaps in other areas of academic achievement, like grades, as well as in access to education.
Announcing the scores at a news conference in New York City, Laurence Bunin, senior vice president for operations and general manager of the SAT program for the College Board, addressed what he called the myth of SAT preparation.
“Short-term commercial prep courses don’t take the place of rigorous education,” Mr. Bunin said. Such courses, he said, “result only in very small score improvements.”
“Anyone who says otherwise is flying in the face of years of research,” he added.
But longtime critics of the SAT disagreed, saying that private test preparation was unfairly distributed.
“The issue with test prep is access,” said Anthony Carnevale, an educational researcher and professor at Georgetown University and a former official with the Educational Testing Service, which develops and administers the SAT. “It tends to be overwhelmingly distributed by class and by race.”