SAT scores rise by point across state Increase slightly less than U.S. average in both verbal and math

Advance Placement praised

City said to lag behind in use of AP courses

August 23, 1996|By John M. Biers | John M. Biers,STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Average scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test by 1996 college-bound Maryland high school seniors rose by one point in both test categories -- verbal and mathematics, according to data released yesterday.

The rise was slightly less than the national gains of one point for verbal and two for math.

An official of the College Board, which administers the nation's main college-entrance exam, said use of Advanced Placement college-level courses by Maryland schools continued to increase, but he criticized Baltimore for lagging behind the rest of the state and other cities in use of the program, which has been credited with increasing scores.

The national average math score was 508, up from 506 in 1995 and just one point behind the 1972 math score of 509. The average verbal score was 505, up from 504 last year but still 25 points below the 1972 average of 530.

In Maryland, the average was 507 for verbal and 504 for math. Regional scores within each state were not in the report.

The SAT is used by 94 percent of all colleges that consider standardized tests in the admissions process. More than 1 million 1996 seniors took the test.

Maryland officials touted the one-point increases as the result of tough state standards.

"Maryland students are taking more academic courses in their high school years, and that is paying off in terms of higher SAT scores and better preparation for college," said state School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Ronald A. Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, pointed out that Maryland outscored its neighboring states and most other states in which students take the SAT with similar frequency. Maryland averaged higher scores than every other state except for one -- New Hampshire -- in which more than 60 percent of its students take the SAT. In 1996, 64 percent of the Maryland's seniors took the SAT.

States with lower percentage of SAT-takers are inclined to average the highest because the students who take the test tend to be only those who are seeking enrollment to the most competitive colleges. This year, North Dakota averaged the highest scores -- 596 for verbal and 599 for math -- but only 5 percent of the state's seniors took the test.

The College Board credits higher SAT scores in large part to the expansion of the Advanced Placement program, which enables high school students to take college-level courses for credit. The program is used by more than 500,000 students at 52 percent of the nation's schools.

Seventy-one percent of Maryland's 227 schools offer Advanced Placement courses. In 1996, according to the College Board, 188 of every 1,000 Maryland 11th- or 12th-graders took an Advanced Placement exam, placing Maryland among the top dozen states in that category.

But Wade C. Curry, who directs the College Board's Advanced Placement Program, said Maryland's use of the program divides sharply along regional lines.

Curry said some of the nation's strongest Advanced Placement programs are in schools in the Maryland suburbs, while Baltimore schools provide few such opportunities.

"It's not one of a kind," Curry said of Baltimore, "but the students certainly aren't getting the kind of program I would like to see them get."

Walter G. Amprey, Baltimore superintendent of schools, rejected Curry's comparisons with other cities.

"Baltimore has more poor people than any other city of its size. To even talk about this, you need to compare an apple to an apple," Amprey said.

Amprey called the College Board "myopic" and said its viewpoint was "of people who are going to college."

Catherine Foster, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's public schools, said each of Baltimore's five citywide schools offer Advanced Placement courses to their students, who account for about 20 percent of the city's 25,000 high school students.

Among the other 14 city schools, Foster knew of two schools that offered Advanced Placement courses last year and that two or three more that planned to offer such classes for the 1996-1997 academic year. Foster said offering Advanced Placement courses at these schools is "strictly optional and based on student demand only."

Foster said Baltimore's impending policy announcement would encourage more Advanced Placement courses as a "long-term" goal, but would not be prioritized over other reforms tailored to raise Baltimore scores on statewide tests. Foster said the city did not believe it was wise to "flood" its schedule with Advanced Placement courses, which are too costly for many Baltimore students.

The College Board charges $73 to students for each Advanced Placement exam, but offers a $22 reduction to disadvantaged students. Foster said that Baltimore students also have received state and private aid to help fund the tests.

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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