For a test that you can't technically "fail," there's an awful lot of groaning going on today over the Class of 2006 in regard to its SAT scores. On Wednesday, a seven-point slip in the average score among students taking the test translated into the lead story in Section D of The Wall Street Journal.

While seven points out of a possible 2400 may not seem like much, according to the nonprofit College Board, which administers the test, it's the biggest year-over-year slide in test scores on this culturally iconic test since 1975. On average, takers of the new-and-improved SAT scored 503 out of 800 on the "critical reading" (aka "verbal") section, which was down five points from last year; and 518 out of 800 on math, down two points. (The "writing" section is a bit of a mystery; the average score was 497 out of 800, but this was the first year this section was scored.)

So today, parents of soon-to-be-high school graduates are wondering whether Junior can still get into Harvard on a combined score of 1518. (Answer: Out of the 1600 possible on the old SAT, maybe. But 1518 out of 2400? Not likely.) Meanwhile, parents of children for whom college is still a few years away are wondering: What went wrong, and what can I do about it?

The obvious answer to the second question would seem to be to pay tutoring companies, such as Educate (NASDAQ:EEEE), Princeton Review (NASDAQ:REVU), and Washington Post's (NYSE:WPO) Kaplan unit, to help Junior boost his test scores. But the more I look at this story, the more I doubt that the "obvious" answer is the correct one.

Consider four factoids cited in the Journal's article:

  • According to the College Board, scores on the new SAT should be comparable with scores on the old SAT. That means a 1400 score today should give you the same bragging rights that a 1400 score merited way back in the 20th century.

  • Students from families earning more than $100,000 per year saw their average verbal scores drop five points year-over-year. In contrast, students from families earning less than $10,000 saw their average verbal scores rise three points.

  • According to the College Board, students who take the SAT more than once score about 10% better, on average, than do students who take it just once.

  • The number of students who took the SAT more than once declined by 3% this year.

While it's hard to say for certain what happened with this year's results, it sure looks as though the students best able to afford tutoring didn't benefit from it as much as one might expect. Meanwhile, one factor that helped to buoy last year's test results -- repeat test-takers -- fell short this year. That has this Fool wondering whether the bad news about the decline in SAT scores will help drive new business to the tutoring companies -- or convince students that their money would be better spent on just taking the SAT twice.

Extra-credit question: How many students currently patronize each of the tutoring companies? Answers on the other side of this link.

Need a smarter portfolio? Check out our suite of investing newsletters -- you can try out any of them free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above.