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Verbal, Math Scores on S.A.T. Up for Second Straight Year

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WASHINGTON--For the second straight year, college-bound seniors performed better than the year before on both the verbal and mathematics sections of the S.A.T.

The national average verbal score rose 1 point over last year, to 424, on the test's 200-to-800 scale, according to the College Board, which sponsors the college-admission exam.

The average math score, meanwhile, increased 2 points, to 478.

Results from the other widely taken admission test, the American College Testing program, are due later this month.

This year's S.A.T. results continued the reversal of what had been a five-year, 9-point drop in verbal scores, the College Board said in a report on the scores released here last month.

Although a greater proportion of those tested reported taking tougher academic courses--which the College Board said helps account for the higher scores--the overall level of achievement remains disappointing.

This year's average verbal score, for example, is still 1 point below the 1983 average and well below the averages of the 1960's.

"Too many students are not being held to rigorous academic standards or exposed to a challenging curriculum,'' Donald M. Stewart, the College Board's president, said in a statement.

More than a million seniors a year take the S.A.T., which is administered by the Educational Testing Service. Because there are so many test-takers, any year-to-year change in average scores is statistically significant, officials said.

Previously known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the exam is being referred to simply as "the S.A.T.'' until March 1994, when a new version, S.A.T. I: Reasoning Test, will be introduced.

Women and Minorities

Women this year gained 1 point each on the verbal and math sections. Men gained 3 points on the math section and remained unchanged on the verbal.

Women continue to score lower than men, this year by 8 points on the verbal section and by 45 points on the math section. The gap has narrowed slightly during the past decade.

The average scores of six of seven minority groups rose this year on both sections of the test.

The seventh group, "other Hispanic''--those who do not identify themselves as Mexican-American or Puerto Rican--gained 1 point on the verbal section and remained steady in math.

A record 30 percent of test-takers are members of racial or ethnic minorities, up 1 percent from 1992 and double the level of 1976, the first year that scores were broken down by ethnicity.

Whites had the highest average verbal score, 444, and Asians the highest math score, 535.

College Board officials said the gender disparity in scores exists because more girls than boys take the test. Fifty-three percent of all test-takers this year were women, a record high.

Board officials added that a growing share of the girls who take the test are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Howard T. Everson, a senior research scientist for research and development at the College Board, also noted that the 258-point combined-score gap between black and white students in 1976 has narrowed by 24 percent.

"The gap in S.A.T. scores between white and minority students is shrinking, but not enough,'' Mr. Stewart, the board's president, said. "The question is, can the academic-reform [movement] level the playing field? I hope so.''

Course-Taking Trends

Board officials placed great weight on the link between more rigorous academic study and higher S.A.T. scores, noting that 42 percent of test-takers this year reported taking 20 or more year-long academic courses--up from 34 percent 5 years ago.

"Rigorous academic study makes for winners,'' Mr. Stewart said.

Officials said students may be taking tougher courses because they are being required to do so. They also said efforts by states to stiffen graduation requirements may have contributed to the upturn in scores during the past two years.

To back that theory, they cited recent data showing improvements in student mathematics scores in 18 of 37 states that participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (See Education Week, April 14, 1993.)

The officials, however, also acknowledged that students who live in suburbs or whose parents have high education and income levels continue to score better than those who live in large cities and rural areas and whose parents are less educated.

"The scores continue to mirror the socioeconomic split between the well-educated of all races and the rest of society,'' Mr. Stewart said.

The full report, "College-Bound Seniors: 1993 Profile of S.A.T. and Achievement Test Takers,'' is available for free from the College Board, Box AF, 45 Columbus Ave., New York, N.Y. 10023-6992.

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