SAT results released Thursday showed Connecticut's Class of 2013 pulled slightly higher scores than the class before it on the college entrance exam, but nationwide scores on the test seemed stuck in neutral.
Officials from the College Board, which produces the test, said the stagnant numbers mean too many high school graduates are unprepared for college.
"We at the College Board consider it a call to action," College Board President David Coleman said.
Critics of the SAT and standardized tests in general, meanwhile, said the failure lies with the system, not the students.
Between the federal No Child Left Behind program and subsequent federal Race To the Top program, Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group, said a generation of students has been subjected to high-stakes testing with virtually nothing to show for it.
"The promise was that these programs would boost college readiness while narrowing the score gaps between groups," Schaeffer said. "We think it just dumbed down the curriculum."
He pointed out that the high school Class of 2013 was in first grade when the federal No Child Left Behind law was signed in 2001.
In Connecticut, the average SAT verbal score for the Class of 2013 was 508 and in writing, 512. In both cases, the scores were just two points higher than the year before, but far higher than the national average for verbal, 496, and writing, 488. The average math score, meanwhile stood at 512, same as last year and two points lower than the national math score average of 514.
By College Board estimates, only 43 percent of SAT takers were academically prepared for the rigors of college-level work, meaning they scored a combined 1,550 on the three-part test. Those that score at that level have a 65 percent probability of doing well in college, according to the College Board. A perfect SAT score is 2,400, or 800 on each part of the test.
Coleman, of the College Board, said the number of students who are prepared for college and careers need to be dramatically increased.
In Connecticut, 36,053 seniors in the Class of 2013 took the test, slightly fewer than the year before; 85 percent of high school students in the state take the SAT at least once.
Average scores in Connecticut vary greatly depending on where students attend school. The average scores for 2013 seniors in public schools was 1,506 combined. In religiously affiliated schools, the average combined score was 1,590 and among independent schools, 1,781. For white students, the average combined score was 1,579 and for black students, 1,250.
The test also offers insight into where students are thinking about going to college and what they want to major in. More than 42 percent of Class of 2013 test takers had their SAT scores sent to the University of Connecticut. Some 16 percent indicated they would major in a health profession and 12 percent in business.
Nationwide, SAT participation rate also dropped slightly, by about 4,400 students to 1,664,479. But within that number are a greater number of minority students. Some 46 percent of Class of 2013 SAT takers were minority students.
Also, for the third straight year, the number of students nationwide taking the ACT, a rival college entrance exam more popular in the western part of the country, eclipsed SAT-takers. In 2013, 1.79 million seniors took the ACT.
Schaeffer, of FairTest, said the Common Core Standards being adopted in Connecticut and 44 other states will not likely improve the situation.
Nationwide, more than 800 colleges and universities either do not require students to submit SAT scores or make them optional, according to FairTest.
"We use them, but there are so many other factors that are important, too," said Kevin O'Sullivan, executive director of undergraduate admissions at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, an SAT-optional institution.
O'Sullivan said standardized tests are no longer the best indicator of how well students will do; grade point averages in four years of high school are better predictors. Sacred Heart also looks for leadership ability and how well a student responds to adversity, since somewhere during four years of college there are bound to be challenges, O'Sullivan said.
Sullivan knew off the top of his head the freshman class at Sacred Heart had an average high school GPA of 3.7. He had to look up the SAT scores, however -- an average 1,120 for verbal and math combined.