Fewer than one-half of the nation's high school graduating class in 2013 who took the SAT -- 43 percent -- are academically ready to tackle college-level work, a report released today by the College Board says.
If that sounds familiar, there's a reason: The rate has remained essentially unchanged for five years.
College Board president David Coleman said what some might dismiss as simply more of the same, should be a cause for alarm as America struggles to compete economically with other nations in preparing skilled workers.
"We at the College Board consider this a call to action," he said during a teleconference with reporters in advance of today's annual report release. "We must dramatically increase the number of students in K-12 who are prepared for college careers."
The College Board, a not-for-profit membership organization whose work includes administering the SAT, uses a score of 1550 as a benchmark to gauge college-level preparedness. The score range for the SAT is 600 to 2400, and combines test results from the math, critical reading and writing sections of the SAT.
The 1550 threshold is associated with a 65 percent probability of having a freshman grade-point average of B- or higher, an attribute associated in turn with a greater probability of graduating, College Board officials said.
Officials at the teleconference said 78 percent of students who meet the SAT benchmark attend a four-year college or university. That's compared with 46 percent of those who do not meet the threshold.
And 54 percent meeting the threshold bring home a bachelor's degree in four years, compared with 27 percent of those who scored below the benchmark.
Those meeting the benchmark were more likely to have completed a core curriculum -- four or more years of English and three or more years each of math, natural science and social science or history -- and were more likely to have both taken honors or AP courses and placed within the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Nationwide, the number of test-takers declined slightly this year to 1,660,047 from 1,664,479 in 2012.
Overall, the Class of 2013 had a combined SAT of 1498 in critical reading, math and writing, the same as last year. Pennsylvania's combined score was 1480 this year.
The College Board said African-American, American Indian and Hispanic students made up 30 percent of test-takers, up from 27 percent five years ago.
The College Board also said almost 15.6 percent of African-American test-takers met or exceeded the SAT academic readiness threshold, compared with 14.8 in 2012. The share of Hispanic test-takers who met or exceeded the threshold increased to 23.5 percent from 22.8 percent in 2012.
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a longtime SAT critic, said the nation's score on the test is 20 points lower than in 2006, when the test was modified to include writing. It said gaps between racial groups expanded, in many cases by substantial amounts, during those years.
Bob Schaeffer, its public education director, said: "Proponents of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and similar state-level programs promised the testing focus would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between groups. The data show a total failure according to their own measures."
Bill Schackner: email@example.com, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.