Average SAT scores for high school seniors declined three points in reading, one point in math and two points in writing from last year as a record number of students took the test used for admission at most U.S. colleges.

The average reading score of 497 marked the lowest since data became available in 1972, according to a report released by the College Board, which administers the exam. The math result of 514 has wavered within 1 point the past five years. The score for writing has fallen in all but one year since being added to the exam in 2005, and dropped to 489 this year.

The nonprofit College Board attributed declining scores to a larger and more diverse group taking the test, especially lower-income students and those who speak English as their second language. Blacks and Hispanics lagged behind their white peers, while Asian-Americans outperformed them in math and writing. Almost 1.65 million students in the 2011 graduating class took the test, according to the College Board.

The decline in scores undercuts academic progress cited under No Child Left Behind, the nation’s main public schools law, said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Boston-based nonprofit group critical of standardized exams.

 
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