Scholastic Aptitude Test math scores reached their highest level in 26 years, and record numbers of students qualified for advanced college placement, The College Board reported Tuesday.
But verbal scores are not rising, there is alarming evidence of high school grade inflation and SAT performance by black and Hispanic men remains low.
The average SAT math score of America’s 1.1 million college freshmen rose to 511, three points above last year, while the verbal score remained at 505. A perfect SAT score is 800 on both sections for a combined total of 1600.
College Board officials credited an increased recent emphasis on math and science in high schools for the improved math scores. They noted that growing numbers of high school women were taking the toughest math and science courses.
“Over the past decade, women who take the SAT have increased their study of chemistry to the point where they now exceed men, and they are not far behind men in the study of precalculus and calculus,” said Gretchen W. Rigol, executive director of admissions and guidance services for the College Board.
“Such preparation is enabling more young women to undertake college majors and enter professions that were closed to them in years past.”
The improved performance in math may actually have contributed to stagnant verbal scores, SAT officials conceded.
That is because the average number of core English courses taken by high school students has declined from four years in 1987 to 3.8 years in 1997 as students have selected more electives - including many in math and science.
“No one is out there championing reading skills in the same way,” said Seppy Basili, director of pre-college programs for Kaplan Educational Test Center. “It doesn’t surprise me that those scores haven’t gone up.”
The evidence of high school grade inflation - the practice of rewarding average work with above-average grades - is glaring, College Board officials say.
Since 1987 the proportion of students with A plus, A and A minus grade-point averages has grown from 28 percent to a record 37 percent, while their SAT scores have fallen an average of 13 points on verbal and 1 point on math.
“Educators who give high grades for average performance promote a ‘just-good-enough’ attitude that is detrimental to students and society,” College Board President Donald M. Stewart told reporters at a Washington news conference. “Schools and colleges must reinstate high standards by providing real academic challenges for their students.”
College Board officials crowed about the record participation by minority students in the SAT testing program - 32 percent of those tested this year as compared to 22 percent 10 years ago.
But the SAT scores of black and Mexican American students remain far lower than their white and Asian classmates. This year’s verbal score for blacks was 434 as compared to 526 for whites.
“If such trends continue the nation will lack a cadre of well-educated black and Mexican American men well into the next century,” Stewart said.
A much brighter statistic is the record 400,000 students who are entering college with advanced placement credits on their records. Some 32,000 were able to enroll as sophomores or juniors thanks to their advanced high school work.
College Board officials estimated that advanced placement had saved students and their parents $400 million in tuition and room and board. And the officials noted that advanced placement students were more likely to finish college, receive honors and go on to graduate school.