High school graduates turned in their best scores in years on the 1995 Scholastic Assessment Test, including the highest math average in two decades.
And although minorities, girls and low-income students continued to lag behind those who are white, male or wealthy, girls and minorities have made steady gains in recent years, according to scores released for the newly revised SATs, the nation’s most widely used college entrance exam.
The national average on the verbal test increased from 423 in 1994 to 428 in 1995, while math scores rose from 479 to 482.
“Education seems to be turning around,” said Donald M. Stewart, president of The College Board, which administers the SAT. “This is the best-prepared class in recent memory.”
FairTest, a consumer group in Cambridge, Mass., that believes the SAT discriminates against females, minorities and low-income students, countered that this year’s results show “the same old bias.”
“At this rate, it’ll be more than two decades before the gender gap is eliminated,” said FairTest’s executive director, Pamela Zappardino, whose outlook for minorities and low-income students was similarly bleak. “The SAT is not a fair measure of a student’s ability to perform in college.”
This year, males scored 40 points higher than females on math and three points higher on verbal. Among ethnic groups, whites scored highest in verbal, averaging 448 points, and were outstripped in math only by Asians, who scored 538. The scores rose in direct proportion to a student’s income bracket.
Fred Moreno, a spokesman for The College Board, said the tests do not discriminate and that other factors such as the quality of a student’s education caused disparities in test scores by race, ethnicity and gender.
This year’s scores are the first since The College Board changed the test’s name to the Scholastic Assessment Test and modified several portions. The new test emphasizes reading comprehension and math problem-solving over multiple choice.
Moreno said the new test format did not contribute to this year’s higher scores. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley agreed, saying the improvement was due to students taking tougher math and science classes.
“You have to be willing to take the difficult courses, and those kinds of things are paying off,” Riley said in a statement.
However, Kaplan Educational Centers, a corporation that prepares students for the SAT, said the new test may have increased scores by eliminating some of the trickier sections.
Kaplan President Jonathan Grayer also said this year’s scores may be higher because 12 percent more students took courses to prepare for the SAT.
This year’s average math score was the highest since 1973. Math scores hit a record low in 1980 at 466 and have been mostly rising since.
The average verbal score was the highest since 1988 but is still lower than it was in the early 1970s when students consistently scored in the 450-460 range. In the 1950s, verbal scores were in the 500s.
Minorities have averaged a 9.3-point increase on verbal tests since 1987 - the first year SAT testers began collecting more detailed information by race and ethnicity - while whites averaged a one-point increase. In math, minorities averaged a 13.3-point increase; whites averaged a nine-point increase.
Girls’ scores increased one point on verbal tests and 10 points in math since 1987, while boys’ scores dropped six points in verbal and rose three points in math.
Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley joined with officials of the College Board in attributing the higher scores to more than a decade of reform. Students today take far more academic “solids” such as chemistry and trigonometry, advanced literature courses and honors history than they did in 1983, when the modern school improvement movement was launched.
“You have to be willing to take the difficult courses, and those kinds of things are paying off,” Riley said.
He said the progress is slower than he would like but that the test score rise “certainly indicates to me that what we are doing in terms of standards … happens to be working and it is no time to get off the sustained drive for improvement.”
He said he feared a proposal by Republicans in the House of Representatives to cut $36 billion from federal spending on education over seven years could derail the progress.
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