An Analysis of 2010 SAT Scores, Part II

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This is the final report in our ongoing analysis of the state’s 2010  SAT scores. For readers not familiar with our previous work, here is a  recap of what we have done:

  • In our first report we looked at the 2009 scores,  finding that South Carolina had the lowest scores in the South and that  even South Carolina’s best students compare unfavorably to their peers  in other states.
  • In our second report we provided an initial analysis of the state’s 2010 scores, observing that South Carolina now has the second-worst score in the nation (second only to Maine, which requires all high school students to take the SAT). (See how your county did.)
  • Subsequently, we conducted an analysis of the S.C. Department of  Education’s assertion that even if scores are down, participation is up.  As we demonstrated, the data clearly shows statewide participation is down – particularly for Whites and African Americans.
  • Finally, we showed – again in response to the DOE – that there is no definitive correlation between high participation rates and low scores. Thus, even if participation rates had increased, this could not be used as an excuse for lower scores. (See the participation rate in your county.)

In our final installment of this series, we’ll provide a more in depth analysis of the 2010 scores, looking, in particular, at:

  • SAT performance over the past 10 years
  • SAT performance compared to other Southern states
  • Economic and ethnic achievement gaps
  • The performance of South Carolina’s best students compared to their peers in other states

Performance Is Down Over the Past 5 Years

For 2010, South Carolina student performance on the SAT dropped by 5  points to a lowest-in-the-South average score of 1447 – or approximately  the 44th percentile.[1]

Among the three testing sections, South Carolina students performed  best in mathematics, with an average score of 495; and worst in writing,  with an average score of 468. In critical reading, South Carolina  students had an average score of 484. Average scores for all three  sections declined from last year: scores for critical reading and  writing fell by 2 points each. Mathematics dropped by 1 point.

The chart below shows that South Carolina’s average composite score  in critical reading and mathematics (CR + M) has consistently ranked  below the national average.[2]

South Carolina SAT Scores vs. National SAT Scores



Although the state’s scores improved from 2001 to 2005, the average  composite score for these two categories fell by 8 points in 2006 –  compared to a nationwide average decline of 7 points. Since then, South  Carolina’s SAT average CR + M score has hovered at around the same level  and not bounced back up to above 1000.

  • In 2005, South Carolina’s average composite CR + M score was 993 (45th percentile) while the national average was 1028. The gap is 35 points.
  • In 2010, South Carolina had an average composite CR + M score of 979, which correlates to the 44th percentile. The national average also dropped to 1017, or the 51st percentile. The gap is 38 points.
  • Since 2005, which marks the high point for the state’s SAT  performance over the past 10 years, South Carolina’s average composite  critical reading and mathematics score has dropped by 14 points.

Lowest in the South

As noted in our previous report,  South Carolina student performance on the 2009 SAT dropped by 9 points  to a lowest-in-the-South average of 1452, corresponding to the 44th percentile. In 2010 graduating seniors in South Carolina again placed in the 44th percentile and again scored lowest in the South.

South Carolina’s 2010 average composite score of 1447 was the lowest  among 13 Southern states. The chart below translates the average score  of all 13 states into percentile rank. Kentucky had the highest average  composite score in the South: 1713, which corresponds to the 73rd percentile. Eight of thirteen states had average scaled scores higher than the 50th percentile ranking – that is, higher than the national average. The  other five, including South Carolina, were below the national average.

Among the six Southern states in which more than 40 percent of graduating seniors took the SAT,[3] only Virginia had an average mean score higher than the national average.

2010 SAT Percentile Ranking for Southern States

Achievement Gaps Have Expanded Over Past 5 Years

The gap between low-income and high-income students continued to  expand in 2010. Students from households earning more than $200,000 had  an average score of 1646, up 13 points from last year. Students from  households earning between $0 and $20,000 scored an average of 1268, 241  points below the national average. In total, the gap between South  Carolina’s wealthiest and poorest households was 378 points, up 3 points  from the previous year.

When the scaled score is translated into a percentile spread, the  achievement gap is even more striking. Students from the highest-earning  households scored in the 67th percentile while students from the lowest-earning households scored in the 23rd percentile. This means the average poorest South Carolina student can  outperform only 23 out of 100 students nationwide who took the same SAT.

In addition, the achievement gap between the state’s two largest  racial groups decreased by 8 points from 2009 to 2010. African-American  test scores declined by 1 point overall – from 1240 to 1239. By  comparison, scores for White students declined by 9 points from 1536 to  1527. The result was a 288 point gap. The achievement gap between  African Americans and Whites has increased by 16 points since 2006.

The achievement gap between Whites and Hispanics declined by 1 point  from the previous year, to 119 points in 2010. Since 2006, however, the  achievement gap has increased by 3 points, with a 116 point gap  registered in 2006.

Achievement Gap by Race and Ethnicity: 2006 to 2010


It is also worth noting that scores for students from middle class  income groups have declined over the past five years. The average score  for students from households earning between $20,000 and $40,000 fell  from 1386 in 2006 to 1352 in 2010. Students from households earning  between $40,000 to $60,000 saw a decline of 36 points, from an average  score of 1464 in 2006 to 1428 in 2010.

South Carolina’s Best Students Are Average in Other States

As we’ve written before, South Carolina’s top students do not compare favorably to their peers in other states.

South Carolina students in the top 10 percent of their class scored an average composite of 1689, placing them in the 71st percentile nationwide. By comparison, Kentucky’s “top 10 percent”  students scored an average composite of 1877, placing them in the 87th percentile. As the chart below indicates, South Carolina’s best  students ranked last on the SAT when compared to their peers in other  Southern states.

Performance of Top Students on 2010 SAT: Southern States

Even worse, South Carolina’s best students, on average, scored worse  than the average student in two other Southern states: Kentucky and  Tennessee. Both Kentucky’s and Tennessee’s average composite percentile  ranking was 73percent. This means South Carolina’s top 10 percent students, who scored in the 71st percentile, performed worse than the average of all SAT test takers in Kentucky and Tennessee.

South Carolina’s second-best students, those ranking between the 10th and 20th percentile in their class, scored an average composite of 1489, placing them in the 49th percentile. In other words, South Carolina’s second-best, or  above-average, students performed at just below the national average for  all students.  By contrast, all other Southern states’ second-best  students performed at least above the 50th percentile.

South Carolina students identified as average – that is, between the 20th and 40th percentile in their class – also ranked lowest in the South. Their average composite score was 1392, placing them in the 36th percentile. Only two Southern states, South Carolina and West Virginia, saw scores for average students dip below the 40th percentile. On the other hand, average-ranked students in four Southern  states – Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama – scored above the  50th percentile.

Limiting our comparison to only the six Southern states that rely  primarily on the SAT (see footnote 3), we also find that our best,  above-average and even worst students compare unfavorably to similar  students in other states.

  • Virginia ranked best among the six Southern states with high participation rates. It had an average score of 1521 (52nd percentile), 12 points higher than the national average. Virginia also had a higher participation rate than South Carolina.
  • South Carolina’s average students performed at the 36th percentile while scores for average students in the remaining five states ranged from the 41st to 45th percentile.
  • Florida’s bottom “three-fifth” students – who rank between the 60th and bottom percentiles of their class – scored at the 28th percentile, the highest among these six Southern states. Similarly ranked students in South Carolina scored in the 23rd percentile – lowest among all six states with high participation rates.

The table on the following page indicates how students in the top 10  percent, second top 10 percent, second fifth and also final 60percent of their class compared to their peers in other Southern states. South Carolina was last in every category.

As indicated by the arrows in the table, scores for all ranks – best,  above-average, average and below average – of South Carolina test  takers fell in 2010. South Carolina was the only state in the South to  see such a comprehensive decline. By contrast, West Virginia was the  only state in the South with gains for all students as ranked by class  placement.







2010 SAT Performance by Class Rank: Southern States

Southern States Statewide Average Highest Tenth Second Tenth Second Fifth Final Three Fifths
Scaled Score % Scaled Score % Scaled Score % Scaled Score % Scaled Score %
Kentucky ↑1713 73 ↓1877 87 ↓1663 68 ↑1569 58 ↓1406 39
Tennessee ↑1712 73 ↓1875 87 ↑1714 73 ↑1594 61 ↓1432 41
Arkansas ↔1684 70 ↑1832 83 ↓1625 65 ↑1528 54 ↓1347 32
Mississippi ↓1666 69 ↑1829 83 ↓1581 60 ↓1425 41 ↓1300 26
Alabama ↓1652 67 ↑1827 81 ↓1589 62 ↓1483 56 ↓1353 38
Louisiana ↓1650 67 ↓1797 83 ↓1599 61 ↑1546 47 ↓1395 32
Virginia ↑1522 52 ↓1735 80 ↓1497 57 ↓1401 45 ↓1288 27
West Virginia ↑1521 52 ↑1775 76 ↑1558 50 ↑1457 38 ↑1310 25
North Carolina ↓1485 49 ↓1734 75 ↑1545 56 ↑1442 43 ↑1301 26
Florida ↓1473 46 ↑1726 75 ↑1534 54 ↑1441 43 ↑1318 28
Texas ↓1462 45 ↑1711 73 ↑1518 52 ↑1428 41 ↓1308 27
Georgia ↓1453 44 ↑1704 72 ↔1508 51 ↑1426 41 ↓1301 26
South Carolina ↓1447 44 ↓1689 71 ↓1489 49 ↓1392 36 ↓1272 23

Districtwide Performance

We have already posted data on districtwide performance, including a map that shows test scores by county for the past 5 years. We also constructed a map that shows participation rate by county for the past 10 years – from 2001 to 2010.

In 2010, 47 of South Carolina’s 85 school districts saw their scores  decline while 38 districts saw their scores rise over the past year.  York 4-Fort Mill had the highest composite score in 2010: 1577, placing  it in the 60th percentile. Scores for the district, though, dropped by 10 points from the previous year.

York also had 418 test takers and so it’s score is a more reliable  indicator of performance than scores from districts with fewer than 100  test takers. Yet consider that when compared to other Southern states,  York 4-Fort Mill still scored lower than the average  composite score in  six other states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana  and Alabama.

Among districts that had at least 100 test takers, Laurens-55 had the biggest gain, jumping 124 points from 1265 to 1389.

Last year, Anderson-3 had the highest composite score overall: 1620, placing it in the 64th percentile. However, Anderson-3 only had seven test takers in 2009. In  2010, the district saw a sharp drop, with scores declining by 199 points  to 1421. Anderson-3 had 14 test takers this year.



Nothing in the foregoing should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder passage of any legislation.

Copyright © 2010 South Carolina Policy Council

[1]The  percentile rank is the percentage of students whose scores fall below a  particular scaled score. For example, a score in the 44th percentile means the student fared better than 44 percent of all students who took the same SAT.

[2]Before  2006, the SAT I exam consisted of two sections: critical reading and  mathematics – abbreviated CR + M. Up to 2006, SAT I test takers could  earn a maximum 1600 composite score. In 2006, the College Board  introduced a writing section, and the maximum composite score increased  to 2400. For comparison purposes, only critical reading and mathematics  scores are used for 10-year comparisons conducted here. Otherwise, this  paper always refers to the 2400 composite score scale.

[3]Our recent fact sheet, “Improved Access No Excuse for Lower Scores,”  indicates that a 40 percent participation rate marks the cut off  between states that rely primarily on the SAT and those that rely  primarily on the ACT. States that have more than 40 percent of seniors  taking the SAT can be said to have a test taker segment that closely  resembles the overall population of graduating seniors. Participation  rates vary greatly, with a gap of 37 percentage points between the  Southern state (Texas, 53 percent) with the highest rate and the state  with the lowest (West Virginia, 16 percent).

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