By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Minority students made up a record portion of SAT test takers in 2013, and blacks and Hispanics improved on the U.S. college entrance exam but still lagged in demonstrating they are ready for college, the College Board said on Thursday.
The average score this year for the millions of students taking the exam on mathematics, writing and critical reading was 1,498 points, unchanged from 2012.
Forty-six percent of students were minority, the highest percentage ever and up from 40 percent in 2009, the College Board, which administers the SAT, said in a statement.
Black, Native American and Hispanic students, who are typically underrepresented in higher education, made up 30 percent of SAT takers, up 3 percentage points from five years ago.
A growing percentage of black and Hispanic students taking the SAT met the College Board's benchmark for academic success in college, or 1,550 points out of a maximum 2,400 points, the statement said.
Among black students, 15.6 percent met the standard, up from 14.8 percent in 2012. The figure was 23.5 percent for Hispanics, up from 22.8 percent the year before.
But blacks and Hispanics are well behind the 43 percent of students overall meeting the 1,550-point benchmark last year, and that percentage has remained virtually unchanged for five years, according to the statement.
"While gains in SAT participation by underrepresented minority students are encouraging, there continue to be striking differences in academic preparation among these groups that directly impact college readiness," the College Board said.
Blacks and Hispanics often lack access to rigorous course work like advanced placement and honors classes in high school and are also less likely to complete a core curriculum in English, mathematics, natural science, social science and history, and have a grade point average equivalent to A, the College Board said.
"To have any hope of achieving breakthrough increases in the number of our nation's students who are prepared for colleges and careers, we must address the challenges these students face," it said.
The 1,550-point threshold is associated with a 65 percent likelihood of a first-year college grade point average of B- or higher. Students meeting the benchmark are more likely to enroll in a four-year college and stay in school past the first year.
They also are twice as likely as those who fell short of the standard to earn a bachelor's degree in four years.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)