Math SAT scores highest since '69

Tuesday, August 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

High school students' SAT math scores climbed this year to the highest level since 1969, while verbal scores held steady for a fifth year.

Related links

College Board Web site

ACT Web site

Center for Education Reform

In releasing the figures Tuesday, the test company attributed the increase to college-bound students who are taking more math and science as they nurse higher ambitions.

The average math score on the college entrance exam was 514, up 3 points from last year. The last time scores were higher was 31 years ago, when the average was 517; it dipped as low as 492 in 1980 and 1981.

The average verbal score this year was 505, as it has been since 1996.

The figures, released in Washington by the New York-based College Board, are based on scores of this year's 1.26 million high school seniors who took the test sometime during high school. The math and verbal sections are each scored on a scale of 200 to 800.

"Over the last decade, male and female students from all ethnic backgrounds have been taking more pre-calculus, calculus and physics. These are some of the most rigorous courses available and help students develop excellent math skills," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. "The SAT math scores of students who take these courses are well above the national average."

Better math scores are good but not good enough, said Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington advocacy group.

"We would expect our college-bound kids to master math and verbal skills, if not show major gains year after year," Allen said. "Particularly recognizing they have not learned as much as they needed to in primary years, and these things are required in college."

The three-hour exam, first given in 1926, or the rival ACT is required for undergraduate admission to most of the nation's 3,500 four-year colleges and universities.

The $24 test is administered by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J. The questions are mostly multiple-choice, and calculators are permitted.

The scoring system sets 500 points as the average. For decades, the system was based on results from 10,000 test takers who were mostly boys in private schools. In 1995, SAT scoring was "re-centered" to reflect results from more diverse students. Averages for previous years were adjusted to reflect this, too.

Boys' usual lead on girls in math is slipping: Boys averaged 533 to girls' 498 – a 35-point difference, compared with 40 points or more in the 1980s.

Verbal scores also showed boys ahead this year, but barely: 507 against 504 for girls. The spread was nine points 10 years ago: 505 for boys, 496 for girls.

The SAT includes a voluntary questionnaire. Here, the College Board found evidence students are taking more math and science, getting better grades and setting higher expectations:

– 69 percent of test takers, boys and girls, said they took four years or more of math. Ten years ago it was 68 percent of boys, 62 percent of girls.

– 88 percent took at least three years of science; a decade ago, it was 78 percent.

– Mean grade point average for all 1.26 million seniors was 3.26, up from 3.09 in 1990.

– More expect to seek advanced degrees. Twenty-two percent planned on a doctorate, 31 percent a master's degree, 25 percent a bachelor's. Ten years ago, 19 percent aimed for a doctorate, 28 percent a master's, and 28 percent a bachelor's.

More than a third who took the test, 37 percent, had parents with only a high school diploma or none at all. In 1990, that was so of 43 percent. This year, 34 percent were minorities compared with 27 percent a decade ago.

As they have since the early 1970s, girls outnumbered boys among the test takers. They accounted for 54 percent of test takers, versus 52 percent in 1990.