SAT scores improve slightly with Class of 2004

Nationally, results show little movement as old test phased out

September 01, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

The old SAT went out with a whimper.

Average scores on the nation's largest college admissions test were flat between 2003 and 2004, rising a point to 508 on the verbal section and declining a point to 518 in math. Each test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800.

A record 1.4 million college-bound students took the SAT in its last hurrah before a new test is rolled out in March with a mandatory essay and a tougher math section - but without the analogies that have befuddled SAT-takers for decades.

Officials praised the performance this year of Mexican-Americans, whose scores have been rising steadily.

"Improved performance on the SAT is one indication that these students are focusing on the skills they need to succeed in college. And the majority of Mexican-American and other Hispanic SAT-takers are the first in their families to go to college," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board.

Sixty-nine percent of Mexican-Americans who took the test this year will be first-generation college students, Caperton said, and 37 percent of all SAT-takers this year are minorities.

The SAT scores have an inverse relationship to the proportion of seniors in each state who take the tests. For example, New York, with the nation's highest participation rate, 87 percent, had a combined average score of 1007. North Dakota, where 5 percent of seniors took the test this year, scored an average of 1183.

"That's a good example of creaming," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state schools superintendent in Maryland, which had a participation rate of 68 percent, the nation's 14th-highest. The national average was 48 percent of just less than 3 million high school graduates.

The scores are also closely related to the academic rigor of students' high school coursework. Students who take physics and calculus tend to score higher, and a higher proportion of whites and Asian-Americans study those subjects, according to the College Board's annual SAT report.

FairTest, an anti-testing organization, was quick to criticize the SAT report.

"One- or two-point year-to-year shifts are far less important to the country's educational health than the fact that the SAT remains a poor predictor of academic performance, systematically misassesses the capabilities of many applicants, and is becoming increasingly susceptible to high-priced test preparation courses," said Bob Schaeffer, FairTest's public education director. "The so-called `new' SAT fails to address any of these problems."

Caperton said the new test "will be even more valuable in assessing the academic skills students need to succeed in college and in today's work force."

He said about 60 percent of the nation's public flagship universities have committed to requiring a standardized writing test for admission. ACT, the rival of the SAT, also is adding a writing test.

About 80 percent of the nation's colleges and universities without open admissions policies use SAT scores in admissions decisions.

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