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S.A.T. Scores Improve Slightly For the First Time in 19 Years

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The nationwide average scores on both the verbal and mathematics sections of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (sat) went up last spring for the first time in 19 years, the College Board, the test's sponsor, reported last week.

The increases were slight. The verbal average rose to 426, up from 424 in 1981; the mathematics average rose to 467 from 466. In 1963, before the long, steady decline in scores on the test began, the average scores were 478 for the verbal section and 502 for mathematics. The decline was halted in 1981, when scores stayed the same as the year before.

See Databank on page 12.

This year, female students scored 10 points lower than males on the verbal section and 50 points lower on the mathematics part. Women improved their verbal scores three points, compared to one point for men. On the mathematics test, men improved one point while women's scores were unchanged.

The multiple-choice examination tests verbal and mathematical reasoning skills--such as reading comprehension and problem solving--said to be necessary to succeed during the first year of college. It is graded on a scale from 200 to 800.

Robert G. Cameron, executive director of research and development for the College Board, said an increasingly career-oriented, harder-working student body with a greater interest in academic subjects may have contributed to the higher scores.

He noted, for example, that the high-school seniors who took the sat during the 1981-82 school year reported taking more mathematics and physical-science courses than any previous group. And the increase in the study of mathematics by women was twice that of men.

Overall, the number of academic courses students said they had taken in high school also increased for the sixth consecutive year, up to 16, or about four per year.

Mr. Cameron also suggested that the rising scores may result in part from a greater percentage of nonpublic school students taking the college-entrance examination. They accounted for 19 percent of the approximately one million students who took the test this year, up from 17.5 percent in 1981.

In addition, the average family income of those taking the test rose from $24,100 in 1981 to $26,800 this year--an increase of 11.2 percent. Numerous studies have found a direct link between family income and higher sat scores.

Mr. Cameron warned against overemphasizing the significance of the higher scores, noting that the College Board's policy is that "making judgments or comparisons of states, school systems, schools, or other groups on the basis of sat scores is invalid because the population taking the sat is not representative of all secondary-school graduates."

Over the years, the public, politicians, and the press have repeatedly used sat scores as a barometer of the performance of the nation's schools.

In fact, this year's higher scores mean those who took the test on average got three-tenths of one more question correct on the two-hour, 145-question examination than their counterparts last year. One question on the sat is worth 10 points.

The test was taken by about one-third of the nearly three million 1982 high-school graduates, or two-thirds of the 1.5 million 1982 seniors who went on to college this fall.

The improvement in sat scores was accompanied by higher scores on the Test of Standard Written English. It was the first time that performance on this test has improved since the nonprofit organization introduced it in 1975.

Average scores also went up on the 15 subject-matter achievement tests taken by about 20 percent of the students who take the sat The overall average of these test scores rose five points to 537, the highest level since 1976.

Drawing on information supplied voluntarily by students on a questionnaire they fill out when they take the sat, the College Board also found that increasing numbers of students--especially women--are planning to enter high-paying, technological fields instead of the liberal arts.

Business and Commerce

Business and commerce was the most popular area of intended study for the fourth consecutive year, with the number of women going into the field tripling since 1978. This year, women accounted for about 20 percent of those who said they will go into that field.

"Women are moving away from their traditional occupations in greater numbers than ever before," Mr. Cameron said. "There was an intensification of the trend this year." Interest in computer sciences has quintupled since 1975.

The most notable declines in intended areas of college study were in education, social sciences, and health.

For the eighth year in a row, more women (52 percent) than men took the sat

The percentage of ethnic-minority students rose again to an all-time high of 18.3 percent.

In an attempt to prevent inaccurate and distorted comparisons of scores, the College Board for the first time also released a state-by-state breakdown of sat results.

Because the percentage of students taking the sat varies widely from state to state--from 2 percent in South Dakota to 69 percent in Connecticut--"meaningful comparisons of test scores cannot be made," the Board said.

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