Colorado students’ SAT scores ticked up slightly this year, although participation remained down — an issue that’s created a murkier picture of overall student achievement.
Meanwhile, Colorado high school students’ PSAT scores dropped this year in all but ninth grade math.
Overall, the PSAT and SAT results fall short of pre-pandemic levels and underscore the difficulty educators have had in getting students caught up. Students taking the SAT this spring were eighth graders at the onset of shutdowns and experienced two years of disrupted learning. National data has shown learning loss since 2019 has been acute here and across the country, especially in math skills.
The SAT was designed as a way to understand student college readiness. The PSAT is a practice test meant to help gauge student learning and identify academic needs.
Colorado uses the PSAT and SAT exams as part of its suite of standardized exams to measure school performance and to determine whether students in grades nine through 11 have learned the necessary math and reading skills for their grade level.
In using the SAT to account for student progress, Colorado also provides a utility for students, who can submit their scores as part of their college applications. But Colorado has made the SAT and ACT optional in admissions to public universities. The 2021 change has likely contributed to fewer students taking the exams.
Overall, participation on the SAT test dropped to 86.6% of students statewide. In 2019, the participation rate was 92.6%. Participation in the ninth and 10th grade PSATs has also dropped, to about 85%. A dip in participation means the results provide a less reliable snapshot of what students know.
Scores on the SAT range from 200 to 800 in reading and math. A perfect score on the SAT is a 1600.
Colorado students averaged a composite score of 990 this year, down from 1,001 in 2019 and below the national average of just above 1,000.
PSAT scores for 10th graders can range from 160 to 760 on both the math and reading tests, with a maximum total score of 1520. For ninth graders, the range is from 120 to 720 in each subject, with a top combined score of 1440.
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Colorado 10th graders scored a composite of 930, down from 938 in 2019. And ninth graders scored a composite of 891, down from 906 in 2019.
State scores might be lower than the rest of the nation on the PSAT and SAT because — even if fewer students are taking the test than in 2019 — more Colorado students take the test than in many other states, which can drive down the average.
Colorado sets a threshold of 530 or higher on reading and writing and 480 on math on the SAT to determine which high school students meet or exceed grade-level expectation. On the PSAT 10, students are expected to score a 480 on writing and reading and a 430 on math. And on the PSAT 9, students are expected to score a reading and writing score of 450 and a math score of 410.
In SAT reading and writing, 58.9% of students met or exceeded Colorado’s expectations. The rate was within a percentage point of 2019 levels, when 58.6% of students met or exceeded expectations.
In SAT math, 35.2% of students met or exceeded expectations. That’s compared with 39% in 2019.
On the PSAT 10 reading and writing, 64.5% of students met or exceeded expectations, compared with 64.9% in 2019. In math, 38% met or exceeded, down from 39.1% in 2019
And in PSAT 9 reading and writing, 63.6% of students met or exceeded expectations; in 2019, the rate was 66.5%. In math, 46.6% met or exceeded this year. In 2019, 49.6% met or exceeded expectations.
State officials said they want to boost participation on the test.
Joyce Zurkowski, the Colorado Department of Education’s chief assessment officer, said students might be questioning the utility of the test especially when it comes to getting into a college or university.
Lawmakers approved the Colorado measure in 2021 to make college-readiness tests optional to admissions in the hopes it would help more first-generation and low-income students get to college. They’re two groups that typically don’t do as well on standardized testing.
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“We do have some ongoing issues with urging all students to see themselves in those assessments and a place for them to participate and benefit from them,” Zurkowski said.
This is the last year Colorado students will take the PSAT and SAT tests on paper. Next year, students will take the tests online.
You can see state and district SAT and PSAT results here:
Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.