College & Workforce Readiness

SAT Math Shows Gain; Verbal Scores Stagnant

By Vaishali Honawar — September 07, 2005 3 min read
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The number of high school students taking challenging courses such as precalculus, calculus, and physics has increased over the past 10 years, contributing to a record-high score on the math portion of SAT for the class of 2005, the College Board said last week.

Ed Hardin, a writing-content specialist with the College Board, discusses the writing section of the revised SAT at a press conference in Washington last week. The new section includes an essay.

The average score was 520 out of a possible 800 in mathematics, 2 points higher than for the class of 2004, and 14 points above the score posted by the class of 1995, according to the New York City-based organization that sponsors the college-admissions test.

On the verbal portion of the SAT, the average score remained the same as last year’s, 508 out of 800, and has registered an increase of only 4 points since 1995.

The scores for the class of 2005 do not reflect the revised SAT, which was administered for the first time in March. It includes a writing portion for the first time, as well as changes to the core math and verbal portions. (“SAT’s Next Chapter About to Be Written,” Feb. 2, 2005)

The 2005 national and state SAT reports are posted by the College Board.

Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, said he was encouraged by the improvement in math scores for this year’s high school graduates. States and schools should focus on enrolling more students in rigorous courses, he added.

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

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, based in Reston, Va., lauded the gains in math. An increased focus on math education in the country appears to be paying off, it said.

“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,” NCTM President Cathy Seeley said in a statement.

Early Look at New Test

The College Board released preliminary results for the new SAT, which was administered three times last spring but will not yield a report reflecting a full high school class’s experience with it until a year from now.

The new writing section includes a 25-minute essay, along with questions that require students to identify errors and improve sentences and paragraphs. The revised SAT, which has a possible top score of 2400, compared with the previous 1600, also covers more advanced math, including topics such as exponential growth and absolute value.

Students who took the new test scored, on average, 516 on the writing portion, 519 on verbal/critical reading, and 537 on math.

Mr. Caperton, noting that the math and critical-reading scores on the new test were higher than the combined math and verbal scores for the class of 2005, said that usually the most ambitious high school students take the SAT in the spring of junior year. Such students would have been heavily represented among the first test-takers for the revised SAT.

“We expect that these scores for next year’s students will come down [in next year’s report],” Mr. Caperton said, once a broader range of students from the class of 2006 have taken the test. 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 help improve the quality of students’ writing.

Howard Tinberg, an English professor at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Mass., said the writing test would “spill over backward” to improve teaching in schools.

“Teachers will give students an opportunity to write more in class, and scores will reflect that change,” he said.

More Test-Takers

Thirty-eight percent of the test-takers in the class of 2005 were members of a minority group, the largest proportion ever for the SAT. But African-American, Mexican-American, and other Hispanic students made few gains in scores over the past decade. For instance, while Asian-American students gained 19 points since 1995 on the verbal test, and white students gained 7 points, black students gained a single point, Mexican-Americans made no progress, and other Hispanic students fell behind by 2 points in that time. Puerto Rican students, however, gained 12 points.

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