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Test Scores Hold At 1979-80 Level After Long Drop

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The average Scholastic Aptitude Test (sat) scores of college-bound high-school seniors did not decline this year, marking only the second year that they have remained stable since 1963, the College Board announced in releasing its annual report last week.

Robert G. Cameron, the Board's research and development director, cautioned, however, that "it is still too early to predict whether this signals the end of the score decline or simply an interruption of the 18-year trend."

The sat, taken by 1.5 million students this year, is viewed as one of the most important tools used by college and university admission offices to determine the acceptability of candidates for admission. The steady downward drift of scores on the standardized test over the last two decades is often cited as evidence that the nation's schools are degenerating--and therefore producing ever-more-poorly prepared college students.

This year and in 1980 the average verbal and mathematics scores of students taking the test were 424 and 466, respectively. In 1963, the year the decline began, the average verbal and mathematics scores were 478 and 502. The highest possible score on either section of the test is 800.

The last year that average scores on both sections of the sat exam remained stable was 1968, and there have only been three occasions since then when either the verbal or mathematics scores did not decline--in 1978, 1976, and 1971.

Mr. Cameron suggested that the stabilization of the test scores could be due, in part, "to the serious efforts by the nation's schools to improve educational programs."

Late last month, the College Board stepped out of its normal role as a sponsor of tests and urged colleges to adopt a standard of student proficiency in a "basic academic curriculum" as a prerequisite for college admission. (See Education Week, September 28, 1981.)

Roy H. Forbes, director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, agreed that "a new emphasis on accountability in education" could be related to the halt in declining sat scores. "But although we've seen these scores settle down for a year, by no means should we sit back and relax," he added.

In addition to reporting this year's sat scores, the College Board's annual report re6vealed the following trends among college freshmen this year:

Scores on the Board's Test of Standard Written English declined again this year, as they have since the exam was first introduced in 1975. Women continued to score higher on the test than did men.

For the third consecutive year, "business and commerce" was the most popular area of intended college study. For the first time, it was also the most common choice of women, who in recent years have most often named health and medical professions.

However, the annual increase of interest in business and commerce, which first emerged in 1973, appears to have ended. The decline in interest in the subject among men more than offset the increase in interest among women.

Engineering continued to be the most popular intended career choice among men (21.5 percent), and also gained in popularity among women (3.2 percent).

Interest in computer science and systems analysis has more than tripled since 1975 and has more than doubled since 1978. In the past year, interest in the area increased by approximately one-third.

The number of students who said they were undecided about the level of education they hoped to achieve went down from 25 percent in 1972 to 20 percent this year. Approximately 25 percent of all respondents said they wanted a master's degree. Some 15 percent of the women and 19 percent of the men wanted advanced or professional degrees.

The number of academic courses students reported taking in high school averaged slightly over 16, or four per year. This number increased for the fifth straight year.

As a group, this year's college-bound seniors reported a median family income of $24,000, up 9 percent from last year. More than 75 percent of the students said they planned to apply for financial aid, and 39 percent said they wanted help in finding part-time work during college.

Copies of the report, College-Bound Seniors, 1981, can be obtained free of charge from the College Board, Box AF, 888 Seventh Avenue, New York, New York 10106.

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