Assessment

SAT Scores Remain Steady; Minority Improvement Noted

September 21, 2004 3 min read

The average combined SAT score for 2004 was unchanged from the previous year, according to results released last week.

According to the College Board, the New York City-based owner of the college-entrance exam, the SAT had a record-high 1,419,000 test-takers this year.

“SAT Scores Hold Steady for College-Bound Seniors,” is available online from CollegeBoard. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The average verbal score went up only 1 point, to 508, and the average score on the math section decreased by a point, to 518, SAT officials said. For each of those sections, the highest possible score is 800. The average combined score was 1026 out of 1600.

While they hesitate to call it a trend, College Board officials are cautiously optimistic that the 1-point verbal increase this year and the 3-point rise last year signal the beginning of a consistent upswing in verbal scores.

“Verbal scores had been flat for the past five years,” said Brian O’Riley, the executive director of SAT information services for the board. “It would be very risky to say that is a sign they will continue to go back up. . [But] we certainly hope it’s a trend in that direction.”

See Also

See the accompanying chart,

Chart: Long-Term Picture

Another positive result this year is the rise in scores for Mexican-Americans, other Hispanics, and American Indians. Mexican-American and other Hispanic students—the two fastest-growing groups of test-takers—posted respective gains of 3 points in verbal, 1 point in math; and 4 points in verbal, 1 point in math.

American Indian students showed jumps of 3 points in verbal and 6 points in math.

African-Americans and Asian-Americans saw a 1-point drop, however, in their average verbal scores. The two groups’ math scores increased by 1 and 2 points, respectively.

Meanwhile, a topic of concern for College Board officials is research that points to grade inflation over the past decade. From 1994 to 2004, the proportion of students taking the SAT who reported a grade average of A rose from 13 percent to 18 percent. At the same time, the SAT scores of those students dropped 4 points in verbal and 1 point in math.

“The way students’ grades are reported, you would expect much bigger upswings in test scores” on the SAT, said Mr. O’Riley. “One conclusion is that it’s easier to get an A.”

ACT and SAT Findings

When scores were released last month for the ACT, the country’s other major college-admission test, an analysis by the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT suggested that many students were not prepared for college-level math classes because they weren’t taking enough advanced classes in high school. (“ACT Scores Show a Slight Increase,” Sept. 1, 2004.)

However, the College Board reported last week that the number of students taking advanced math and calculus classes has shown improvement. In 1994, just 35 percent of SAT-test-takers were taking advanced math courses. This year, that share increased to 46 percent. Twenty-one percent of students in 1994 were taking calculus, compared with 25 percent for the graduating class of 2004.

In addition, although ACT officials noted that more students were prepared for college-level writing courses, the SAT results show that 64 percent of students in the graduating class of 2004 had taken English composition—down from 76 percent in 1994. The percentage of SAT students who had taken grammar classes fell from 80 percent in 1994 to 67 percent this year.

Starting next March, students in the class of 2006 will be taking a new version of the SAT. The new test will feature higher-level math, more reading passages, and a writing section, which will include an essay and multiple-choice questions. (“Students, Test-Prep Firms Get a Jump on Revised SAT,” May 26, 2004.)

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