WASHINGTON - Arizona's college-bound students continued to score higher than the national average on all sections of the SAT, according to a College Board report released Wednesday.
The state also did a better job closing the "achievement gap," with white students in Arizona scoring about 45 points higher than non-white students, compared to a gap of nearly 60 points nationally.
Both the national and state averages dipped slightly from 2010, with the U.S. scores falling to a record low.
The national average score for reading fell to 497, while Arizona students averaged 517 on that portion of the test. The math scores were higher - 523 in Arizona and 514 throughout the country - while writing lagged, at 499 for the state and 489 for the nation.
Each section of the test has a possible 800 points.
State education officials were hesitant to draw any conclusions from the high scores because the test is "self-selective."
"Only students that want to take these tests typically take them," said Andrew LeFevre, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education. "There has been no major push in Arizona to have more students take the SAT test or less students take the SAT test."
States with fewer test-takers tend to have higher scores, according to the College Board.
LeFevre said the SAT is the primary college-entry test in Arizona. But only 22,845 of about 65,000 high school seniors in the state chose to take it, according to the College Board.
While he would not point to a specific reason behind the overall higher scores, LeFevre did attribute the narrowed achievement gap in part to state efforts, pointing to the nation's most-intensive English immersion program.
"Arizona has placed a large emphasis on its structured English-immersion program," said LeFevre. Preliminary results show that students in the program who have mastered the language "are doing very well on their academic achievements."
That the nation appeared to lag behind Arizona surprised the Arizona Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for improvements in pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade education.
"I'm surprised that it's not more of a national trend," said foundation President Bobbie O'Boyle. "One of the whole ideas of (the federal program) No Child Left Behind was not make the educational quality ... depend on their (students') ZIP code or educational background or something else."
Each demographic in Arizona outperformed its national counterpart except for Asians, who trailed Asians nationwide in two of three sections, and Native Americans, who trailed the nation in all categories.
Arizona Indians scored an average of 11 points lower than Native Americans throughout the country. Their low scores are part of larger problems concerning education for the state's Native Americans.
"Arizona has shown, for whatever reason, that it's had the lowest achieving (levels) of our Native Americans of any state," LeFevre said.
Estimates from College Board data and Arizona high school enrollment figures from 2010 show that just 6 percent of Native American high school seniors in Arizona took the SAT, compared with 14 percent of Hispanics, 22 percent of blacks, 34 percent of whites and 60 percent of Asians.
"I don't necessarily have a good answer for that," LeFevre said. "It's really an area the superintendent is looking for ways to address."
Those efforts include meeting with tribal leaders and getting technology to remote parts of the state.
"We want all of our students to have access to a quality education and an education that will make them college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school," LeFevre said. "I certainly think we have a ways to go before we're ... at that level."
By the numbers
Arizona students' scores topped the national average in all areas of the most-recent SATs.
All students: 517 in Arizona vs. 497 U.S.
White: 536 vs. 528
Mexican, Mexican-American: 475 vs. 451
Other Hispanic: 470 vs. 451
Asian or Pacific Islander: 535 vs. 517
African American: 461 vs. 428
American Indian: 467 vs. 484
Puerto Rican: 512 vs. 452
Other: 522 vs. 493
No Response: 515 vs. 448
All students: 523 in Arizona vs. 514 U.S.
White: 541 vs. 535
Mexican, Mexican-American: 480 vs. 466
Other Hispanic: 475 vs. 462
Asian or Pacific Islander: 574 vs. 595
African American: 457 vs. 427
American Indian: 480 vs. 488
Puerto Rican: 499 vs. 452
Other: 520 vs. 517
No Response: 508 vs. 496
All students: 499 in Arizona vs. 489 U.S.
White: 517 vs. 516
Mexican, Mexican-American: 461 vs. 445
Other Hispanic: 455 vs. 444
Asian or Pacific Islander: 526 vs. 528
African American: 443 vs. 417
American Indian: 446 vs. 465
Puerto Rican: 489 vs. 442
Other: 506 vs. 492
No Response: 486 vs. 450