California high school seniors' SAT scores dropped last year, reflecting a national trend of lower scores on the college-entrance exam.
Students of California's class of 2012 who took the three-part exam during high school scored an average of 495 in critical reading, 512 in math and 496 in writing, a three- or four-point drop in each area.
California students scored slightly lower than the national averages of 496 in reading and 514 in math, but higher than the national average of 488 in writing.
National scores have been falling for seven to nine years, depending on the subject area.
But a bright spot in the report, released Monday by the College Board, the private organization that administers the test, is that California's participation rate in the SAT continued its steady rise. Exactly half of public school seniors -- and 55 percent of all California seniors -- took the SAT during high school, a 2-percentage-point increase from last year and an 8-percentage-point rise over 10 years.
Among states, California scored higher in math than only 17 other states, but many of those states have far lower participation rates. For example, Illinois students scored about 100 points higher in all three subjects than did California students, but only 5 percent -- versus California's 55 percent -- of Illinois students took the SAT.
For the first time, Latino students in California public schools represented a larger percentage of test-takers than did any other ethnic group -- an indication that more are taking college prep courses. In the state's class of 2012, 36 percent of those taking the SAT were Latino, 29 percent were white, 22 percent were Asian and 7 percent were African-American.
The maximum score on each section of the SAT is 800 points. The College Board estimates that only 43 percent of the class of 2012 graduated high school prepared enough to be likely to succeed in college. That estimate is based on how many students scored at least 1550, out of a possible 2400, which indicates they have a 65 percent likelihood of achieving at least B-minus average during their freshman year in a four-year college.