California students continued to perform at about the same level as their peers across the country on the SAT college entrance exam, according to newly released scores.
In California, 241,553 students — 60.4% from the graduating class of 2015 — took the test, and, on average, they scored 1,492 out of 2,400 points. Nationally, the nearly 1.7 million test takers scored an average of 1,490.
California's average score is about 28 points down from 1,520 in 2006. The newer scores reflect what College Board President David Coleman called a "larger and more diverse group of students than ever before."
The overall decrease in average scores shows that more students are getting the chance to apply for college, but according to Christina Theokas, director of research at the Education Trust advocacy group, that's not enough.
"The focus on opportunity is great, but we need to shift the focus to mastery," she said. "If we want to create opportunity for all students, we need to make sure all students are actually prepared for the test."
The College Board, the private nonprofit company that owns the SAT, asserts that scoring a 1,550 or higher means that a student is ready for college. Across the country, nearly 42% of students met that benchmark, compared with 41% in California.
"We know we absolutely must do better in the future," said Cynthia Schmeiser, the College Board's chief of assessment.
As seen on other exams, the scores reflect achievement gaps between various ethnic groups: 20.2% of Latino test takers and 21.4% of African Americans in the state reached the readiness target, compared with 41% of students statewide. The College Board did not break down that statistic for Asian or white students.
The 1,550 benchmark represents a 65% likelihood of getting a B- or higher during the first year at a four-year college, according to the College Board.
The SAT tests students on critical reading, math and writing. Each section has a maximum score of 800 points.
The newly released scores reflect the last complete set of results from the current version of the SAT. Beginning in March 2016, the test will reflect a major overhaul.
Although the College Board has not said so explicitly, its description of the new exam — more critical thinking, less rote memorization — mirrors that of the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning goals that Coleman helped create. While the next round of results will reflect many students who took the current exam, 2015 was the last year in which students could only take the current version.
The new SAT will focus more on testing the mastery of academic words rather than the obscure vocabulary for which the test had become notorious. There will be no penalties for wrong answers, and the essay section will be optional — though some California colleges, such as University of California schools, are expected to continue to require it for admission.
MORE ON EDUCATION