S.A.T. Scores Up 4 Points, Biggest Jump in 21 Years
Washington--The average score of high-school seniors on the mathematics section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test rose three points and the average verbal score increased one point in 1983-84, the College Board reported last week.
It was the third year in a row that the average mathematics score rose, while the increase in the verbal score follows a one-point decline last year.
The average mathematics score increased to 471 out of a possible 800, the highest level since 1975-76, and the verbal increased to 426, equal to the 1981-82 level and two points higher than 1979-80's all-time low. The scores were reported in the College Board's annual report, College Bound Seniors, 1984.
About half of the 3,100 colleges and universities in the United States require either the sat or the American College Testing Program's act for admissions or placement; 964,684 college-bound seniors took the sat last year.
The overall four-point increase this year, which raises the average combined mathematics and verbal score to 897, is the largest increase since 1962-63, College Board officials said. But they warned that these developments suggest only "a modest upward trend" in the test scores; the combined average is still 83 points lower than the average score of college-bound seniors in 1962-63.
George H. Hanford, president of the College Board, stated: "In the context of the decline in scores from 1963 to 1980, it would be naive to conclude that national attention to the quality of American education, so much in the public eye over the past year, is no longer necessary."
At a simultaneous press conference in Washington, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell said that this year's sat results come as "good news" and "will provide en-couragement" for the nation's parents, students, teachers, administrators, and governing boards to continue their efforts to improve the quality of the nation's schools.
However, Mr. Bell cautioned, the combined four-point gain on the sat this year is "not a smashing step forward" but only "an encouraging early sign of academic recovery."
This was the first time the U.S. Education Department announced the results of the sat simultaneously with the College Board. "It's natural when the news is good to want to be the first to announce and take credit," said Mr. Hanford. "But on the other hand, I can't recall any department or office of education taking credit for bad news."
Closing the Gap
Mr. Bell said that although he announced in Indianapolis last December that the sat scores of college-bound seniors could be brought up to 1963 test-score levels within five years, it is now "more realistic" to say that if seniors can raise scores by seven points per year, they can match peak levels "by the middle of the next decade."
The percentage of students taking the sat who identified themselves as minorities reached an all-time high of 20 percent, largely because of an increase in black and Oriental students; of the 20 percent, 46 percent were black, 23 percent were Oriental, and 17 percent were Mexican-American or Puerto Rican.
The proportion of students from nonpublic schools who took the sat rose slightly for the seventh consecutive year. Last year, about 20 percent of students who took the test were from private schools, compared with 17 percent in 1977.
Business and commerce represented the most popular area of intended college study for the sixth consecutive year. Interest in this area rose to its highest level this year, after leveling off somewhat in the three previous years.
Interest in computer sciences declined after 10 years of dramatic increases, due entirely to a drop in interest by women. Approximately 1 in 10 seniors expressed the intention to major in this area.
Students reported taking more academic courses than before in all areas except biological sciences, with the largest increases in mathematics and physical sciences. Students reported taking more "honors or advanced placement" courses in all subjects.
The average score for the Test of Standard Written English, which evaluates students' ability to recognize standard written language that they will see in college textbooks and be expected to write in term papers in college, rose by .3 to 42.6 on a scale of 20 to 60-plus. This is the largest increase since the test was first introduced in 1975.
All students who take the sat also take the Test of Standard Written English, which is shorter and easier than the College Board's English Composition Achievement Test. Board officials say the results of the test help colleges, particularly those with diversified student bodies, to place students in the most appropriate English courses.
The board also issued a state-by-state breakdown of test scores but reiterated its warnings that the scores cannot be used to make comparisons between states because the proportion of students taking the tests varies 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 combined score on the test--1089.
South Carolina, where 49 percent of graduates took the sat, had the lowest combined score--803.
Connecticut had the highest proportion of students taking the test--69 percent of all graduates--followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota each reported that 3 percent took the test.
Secretary Bell, who earlier this year used state scores as one basis for ranking educational quality in the states, acknowledged at his news conference that in making comparisons between states, officials have to be careful "about what the sat measures and what it doesn't measure."
The examination, he said, does not "measure the 65 percent of students who do not take the test," nor does it measure "inborn and unchanging capacity."
"I don't allege that the tests are achievement tests, but they are significant indicators of preparation and readiness to do college work," the Secretary said. "That is not the only purpose of schooling, but it is significant. So how well states do on the tests is important.''