SAT math scores of '05 high school seniors are highest

Racial disparities persist

performance on verbal part of test remains flat

August 31, 2005|By Jean Merl | Jean Merl,LOS ANGELES TIMES

The nation's high school Class of 2005 posted a record-high score on the math portion of the SAT but showed no progress on the verbal part of the widely used college-entrance examination, test officials said yesterday.

As a whole, students who graduated this spring and are entering college this fall averaged 520 on the math portion and 508 on the verbal, on a scale from 200 to 800 possible points per section. The math was up two points from the year before and the verbal was the same.

Gaps in achievement remained for some minority groups, however. In math, for example, Asian-Americans and whites scored 580 and 536, respectively. By contrast, Mexican-Americans scored 463 and blacks, 431.

The nonprofit College Board, which owns the SAT, also released preliminary results of its new essay writing test, administered for the first time in March, mainly to the Class of 2006. The average writing score was 516, a number that seemed to allay some early fears that the new test was either too difficult or too easy. Many testing experts expect that score will decline, at least in the short term, however, and several said the jury remains out on the new test's importance.

College Board officials, at a Washington news conference to discuss the annual release of results, attributed a steady, 10-year rise in math scores in large part to an increased focus on math and science instruction across the nation. More students are taking more advanced courses in those subjects, they said.

But the lack of significant improvement on the verbal portion of the test over the same time period is troubling, said College Board President Gaston Caperton. He said the flat scores indicate a "need to redouble efforts to emphasize the core literacy skills of reading and writing."

About 98 percent of the students included in the Class of 2005 scores released yesterday took the older version of the test. That did not include the new essay.

However, the College Board separately made public the first round of average scores on the new test, first offered in the spring and taken mainly by students who are going to be high school seniors this year. The first average scores on the new essay portion, 516, was lower than the grades on the other two parts of the new test, 537 in math and 519 in verbal, now called critical reading.

Officials anticipate the next round of writing scores will decline. That's because the early test-takers from this year's senior class tend to represent the most ambitious and best students, while others are postponing the test until this fall.

Caperton, a former governor of West Virginia, touted what is now a three-part exam lasting three hours and 45 minutes. He said the new essay part was graded by current and retired high school and college writing teachers and that the process was designed to be as objective as possible. (The new test also features revisions in the other two sections and has a potential perfect score of 2400 instead of 1600 for the older version.)

"We believe it is a much better test and a much fairer test," he said, adding he believes writing "will improve in this country because we put in on the test."

But the new version has its critics, including the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest.

"The testing mania in this country is not producing students who are better prepared to succeed in college," said FairTest Co-Director Monty Neill, citing flat scores not only on the verbal SAT but also on some other popular assessments.

"These are short, write-to-a-prompt tests that encourage highly mechanical training in how to beat the test," Neill said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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