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Math Scores on S.A.T. Rise; Verbal Scores Drop One Point

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The average score of high-school seniors on the mathematics section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (sat) rose one point in 1982-83, but their verbal score declined by one point, the College Board reported this week.

The mixed results followed an increase of one point in the average scores of 1981-82 seniors on both sections of the test. In 1980-81, scores remained at the 1979-80 level, which represented the low point of the 17-year decline of mathematics and verbal scores.

The average mathematics score increased to 468--the highest score since 1977-78--and the verbal score dropped to 425, which was still one point higher than 1979-80's all-time low of 424. The scores were reported in the College Board's annual report, College-Bound Seniors, 1983.

Nearly a million college-bound seniors took the test; about half of the 3,100 colleges and universities in the U.S require either the sat or the American College Testing Program's act for admissions or placement.

George Hanford, president of the College Board, said in a statement that the increase in the mathematics score is apparently due to improved scores for the college-bound women who took the test. Women's average scores rose two points, while those of men remained at the 1981-82 level, Mr. Hanford said.

The shift coincides with an increase in the number of women who express interest in careers in fields related to mathematics--business and computer science, for example. This year, 57 percent of the students who planned to major in business or commerce were women; in 1972-73, the figure stood at 36 percent.

Among the other major findings of the report:

The percentage of students from nonpublic schools who took the sat rose for the sixth consecutive year--up to 20 percent, compared with 17 percent in 1976-77. The board does not provide comparative data on public- and private-school students' scores.

The percentage of minority students taking the sat reached an all-time high of 19 percent, due mostly to an increase in the number of Oriental students.

Interest in careers in computer science continued to increase; one in 10 students now say they plan to major in this field. Interest increased by almost one-third this year and has grown six-fold since 1974-75.

Business and commerce was the most popular intended field of study, as it has been for the past five years. Overall, interest leveled off after increasing steadily since 1973.

Students' interest in careers in education continued its "eight-year slide," according to the report; the number of students planning to study education is fewer than half the number in 1974-75. In 1972-73, 15 percent of the women who took the sat planned to be education majors; this year, 6.7 percent reported that intention.

The average score of students taking the College Board's achievement tests remained at the 1981-82 level of 537.

Median family annual income rose by 8 percent over the 1981-82 level, to $29,000.

Students reported taking more academic courses in all areas except the biological and social sciences, with the largest increases in the physical sciences and mathematics. The rate of increase in the study of mathematics by women was nearly twice that of men.

The increase in mathematics scores may also be linked to the greater number of courses that students took, according to the board. Robert G. Cameron, the testing agency's executive director of research and development, suggested that the improvement might also be due to better instruction in mathematics.

"By and large, math aptitude is developed mainly in school and not enhanced to any great extent outside the classroom," Mr. Cameron said in a statement. Given the many other factors that influence students' verbal skills, it is more difficult to link the decline in scores on that test to a specific factor. Mr. Cameron suggested that the drop may mean that "schools need to pay closer attention to developing such skills as reading comprehension and other verbal reasoning abilities."

'Meaningful Comparisons'

The board also issued state-by-state breakdowns of scores, but cautioned that the scores cannot be used to make "meaningful comparisons" of academic performance because the percentage of students taking the test varies widely from state to state. In general, the higher the percentage of students taking the test, the lower the average score for the state.

Iowa, where 3 percent of the graduates took the sat, showed the highest average score on the mathematics section of the test--573.

Georgia, where 50 percent of the seniors took the test, reported the lowest average mathematics score--428.

Connecticut had the highest percentage of students taking the test--68 percent of all graduates--and Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah each reported that 3 percent took the test--the lowest percentage.

The board, officials said, plans to analyze the data further and issue reports in December that cover differences among ethnic groups.

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