Assessment

30-Year-High SAT Math Scores Linked to Rigorous Coursetaking

By John Gehring — September 06, 2000 4 min read

The average SAT mathematics score this year hit the highest mark in 30 years, College Board officials said here last week, pointing to the increasing number of students taking higher-level courses as a significant reason for the improvement.

Math scores increased 3 points, to 515, while verbal scores remained at 505 for the fifth consecutive year. The maximum score on each of those sections of the test is 800.

A record-high number of high school students took the SAT and the ACT, the two major college-entrance exams, this year, according to recently released national data. In addition, more students than ever are taking such rigorous courses as calculus and physics, testing officials said.

The ACT and SAT help college officials with admissions, placement, and scholarship decisions.

The SAT tests students’ math and verbal reasoning and is administered by the New York City-based College Board on a scale of 400 to 1600 for the combined sections.

Given by the Iowa City-based ACT Inc., the ACT measures math, verbal, and science reasoning on a 36-point scale.

Students who had taken pre-calculus, calculus, or physics scored 33 to 96 points above the average combined SAT score.

The proportion of SAT-takers enrolled in higher-level classes increased in the class of 2000; 24 percent had taken calculus and 49 percent physics, compared with 19 percent and 44 percent, respectively, in 1990.

In addition, 88 percent of SAT-takers this year reported having taken at least three years of science, also a record high for those taking the test.

The stagnation in verbal scores, test officials note, comes at a time when more SAT-takers speak English as a second language.

More than a third of this year’s SAT-takers were the first in their families to attempt to attend college. More than half those tested were women, and 34 percent were non-Hispanic minorities.

Achievement Gap Remains

Despite the increase in rigorous coursetaking, the gap between the scores of whites and minority students on the SAT remained. White students earned average combined scores of 1158, compared with 860 for African-American and 928 for Hispanic students.

Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, said at the news conference last week that the differences in scores between racial or ethnic groups might reflect disparities in the quality of schools. Minority students are more likely to attend poorer schools with weaker teachers and less access to high-level classes such as Advanced Placement courses, he noted.

“It has nothing to do with potential,” Mr. Caperton said. He highlighted the College Board’s effort to bring AP classes to all high schools as a way to reduce the gap.

Since 1990, the gap between the scores of white and black students has increased slightly on both portions of the test. Asian-American students, meanwhile, recorded the highest average in math this year, with a score of 565. White students’ average verbal score of 528 was the highest of any race.

While men still have a higher combined average score than women—1040 for men, compared with 1002 for women—the gender gap is closing in both math and verbal scores, officials said. Since 1990, women’s verbal scores on the SAT have increased by 8 points, compared with a 2-point gain for men. Since the 1980s, the gap in math scores has narrowed by 5 points.

Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, a watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass., that is a longtime critic of the SAT, said in a statement that the SAT scores offered little information about the country’s real educational problems and revealed more about the exam’s flaws.

Women earn higher grades in college than men, Mr. Schaeffer pointed out, although men outperform women on the test, which is designed to predict college success.

“On the rival college-admissions test, the ACT, male and female scores are essentially the same—just as they are on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “The SAT gender gap says more about the test’s biases than educational attainment.”

The College Board says that, to ensure fairness, the test goes through a series of evaluations before it is administered.

“It is absolutely the most highly researched test in the world,” said Gretchen Rigol, the board’s vice president of higher education services.

Steady at ACT

For the fourth consecutive year, average ACT scores, which measure students’ ability in English, math, reading, and science reasoning, remained steady at 21.

“From the 1960s through the 1980s, the national average score fluctuated constantly,” Richard L. Ferguson, the president of ACT Inc., said in a statement. “Decreases outnumbered increases, and increases were seldom consecutive. Today, the situation is the reverse. We haven’t seen a decline in the national average since 1989.”

For the ACT, the proportion of high school students who reported having taken a core curriculum of at least four years of English and three years each of math, social sciences, and natural sciences, increased to 63 percent, from just 48 percent in 1990.

While high school students were taking a more demanding courseload, the ACT results also showed that 47 percent of those who hoped to enroll at a selective college had an ACT score at or below the national average.

The proportion of ACT-takers who reported themselves as being home schooled, while still small, increased by 41 percent since last year.

Those students scored slightly higher than the national average.

Related Tags:
SAT

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Assessment Opinion AP Exams Can't Be Business as Usual This Year
The College Board seems unconcerned with the collateral damage of its pandemic approach, writes an assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
Pete Bavis
5 min read
Illustration of large boat in turbulent waters with other smaller boats falling into the abyss.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Assessment Federal Lawmakers Urge Miguel Cardona to Let States Cancel Tests, Highlighting Discord
A letter from Democratic members to the new education secretary calls for an end to the "flawed" system of annual standardized exams.
3 min read
Jamaal Bowman speaks to reporters after voting at a polling station inside Yonkers Middle/High School in Yonkers, N.Y. on June 23, 2020.
Jamaal Bowman speaks to reporters after voting at a polling station inside Yonkers Middle/High School in Yonkers, N.Y. on June 23, 2020.
John Minchillo/AP
Assessment How Two Years of Pandemic Disruption Could Shake Up the Debate Over Standardized Testing
Moves to opt out of state tests and change how they're given threaten to reignite fights over high-stakes assessments.
9 min read
Image of a student at a desk.
patat/iStock/Getty
Assessment A Plan for Standardized Test Scores During the Pandemic Has Gotten States' Attention
A testing expert says his idea would provide helpful data with key context, but said other measures about student well-being are crucial.
7 min read
HS class 1257213326
Getty