SAT Math Scores Improve, Verbal Scores Stay the Same

By Vaishali Honawar — August 30, 2005 4 min read
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The high school class of 2005 earned modestly higher mathematics scores on the SAT than the class of 2004, but scores on the college-entrance exam’s verbal section stayed the same as a year ago, according to the College Board.

Officials of the New York City-based organization that sponsors the SAT said the composite math score was the highest on record: at 520, 2 points above last year. But the verbal score was the same as last year, 508, and has registered an increase of only 4 points over the last 10 years.

College Board President Gaston Caperton, who released the annual report on SAT scores at a press conference in Washington on Aug. 30, said the flat trend in verbal scores indicates that “we have got to keep our eye on developing literacy skills of reading and writing that are so necessary to college and to life.”

“Developing reasoning skills and advanced literacy skills,” Mr. Caperton said, “is essential in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected and digital.”

Revised Test Excluded

The composite scores for the class of 2005 do not reflect the revised SAT. First administered in March, it includes a writing portion for the first time, making the test controversial.

The writing section includes a 25-minute essay, along with questions that require students to identify errors in and improve sentences and paragraphs. The new SAT also covers more advanced math, including topics from third-year college-preparatory math, such as exponential growth and absolute value.

The College Board also released preliminary results for the new SAT, which are separate from the composite math scores.

Students who took the new test scored 516 on the writing portion, 519 on verbal/critical reading, and 537 on math. The first full report for the revised test will come out a year from now.

Mr. Caperton, noting that the math and critical-reading scores on the new test were higher than the composite scores for the class of 2005, said that usually the best and most ambitious students take the SAT in the spring of their junior year of high school.

“We expect that these scores for next year’s students will come down [in next year’s report],” he said.

College Board officials said they could not judge whether the writing score was satisfactory because this is the first year the test was administered, but Mr. Caperton said they hoped the test itself would raise the quality of students’ writing.

More Test-Takers

Thirty-eight percent of the test-takers in the class of 2005 were minority-group members, the largest proportion ever for the SAT. But African-American and Mexican-American students made few gains in scores over the past decade. For instance, while Asian-American students gained 19 points since 1995 in the verbal test, and white students gained 7 points, black students gained a single point, and Mexican-Americans gained just 2 points in that time period.

As one way to address the minority gap, said James Montoya, the vice president of higher education assessments at the College Board, the organization was “urging state governments and schools to enroll all children in more rigorous courses.”

Despite concerns surrounding the written test on the new SAT, including the effect on students whose native language is not English, the test’s vulnerability to test-prep courses, and reports that more colleges are dropping the exam from their admissions criteria, the College Board says the number of students taking the test is increasing. For the class of 2005, the number of SAT-takers shot up by 56,000 students to a total of 1.48 million.

Officials at the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT, the administrator of the second-largest college-admissions test, claim that 1.2 million students in the class of 2005 took their test. According to results released earlier this month, the average composite score on the ACT for the class of 2005 remained the same as last year, at 20.9 points.

Critics of standardized testing say the flat scores show college-admissions tests have failed in their mission—improving the quality of education.

“Children are no better prepared for college and for the work world,” asserted Robert A. Schaeffer, the director of public education for FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group critical of standardized testing. “We know from other sources that dropout rates have increased. These tests were supposed to raise the bar in high school, but data show that they are not doing what they were supposed to do.”

But the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, based in Reston, Va., lauded the math scores, saying an increased focus on math education in the country appears to be paying off.

The College Board report said more high school students are taking demanding courses such as precalculus, calculus, and physics, which NCTM President Cathy Seeley called an encouraging trend.

“More than ever before, in today’s world students need to take math every year of school, and they also need to take higher-level courses in high school,” she said.

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