Seniors Post Best SAT Test Gain in 2 Decades

Times Education Writer

California high school seniors made the best gain this year in more than two decades on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, state officials said Monday, giving further evidence that high schools are rebounding.

Throughout the 1970s, scores in California on this college admissions test fell further and faster than the national average, hitting bottom in 1983.

The state’s average score rose two points last year, followed by a seven-point gain this year.

Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said, however, that he is only “guardedly optimistic” about the results.


“We fell a long way, and we’ve recovered a bit,” Honig said.

Los Angeles students who took the test did slightly better this year but still trail far behind the state and national average. The Los Angeles district said its students averaged 380 on the verbal test, up by four points over last year, and scored an average of 449 in math, up two points from last year.

1 Million Students Tested

Nationwide, the average score on the SAT jumped nine points, the strongest rise since 1963, the College Board in New York said Monday.

Each year, the exam is taken by nearly 1 million students, generally the top third of the high school class. Both the verbal and math parts are scored on scales that range from 200 to 800.

National and state education officials said that more emphasis on academic courses--and possibly more emphasis on the test itself--may explain the increase in scores. College Board President George Hanford also noted that Latino students made the best gains of any group.

The typical California student did better in mathematics than the national average but scored lower on the verbal part of the test.

The state’s seniors in 1985 scored 480 in mathematics, four points better than last year and five points higher than the national average.

On the verbal test, California students scored 424, three points better than last year but well below the national average of 431.

‘A More Positive Attitude’

In addition to the scores, the College Board also reported on a variety of trends that “indicate a more positive attitude towards academic pursuits in our high schools,” Hanford said.

For the ninth consecutive year, the board found students taking slightly more course work than in previous years in each of six academic subjects, he said. The class of 1985 also took more honors and college-level courses than past classes, he added.

At the same time, grade inflation appears to have ended, as the grade point average attained by students has fallen slowly but steadily since 1976, the board said.

“It would appear that the efforts begun a decade ago (when the test score decline was first publicized) have started to pay off,” Hanford said.

In Los Angeles, school officials said the high percentage of non-English-speaking students probably explains the district’s low scores in the verbal area.

“We have been pushing more kids to take the test and for many of them, their primary language was not English,” said Phil Linscomb, assistant superintendent for instruction in the Los Angeles school district. “It’s somewhat discouraging to see them scoring lower than the state average, but it’s encouraging to see them going up.”

‘All Kids Can Do It’

Nationwide, Latino students made better than average gains, although they still scored well below the average of Anglos, the board said. Mexican-American students scored 382 on the verbal part of the test, six points higher than last year, and 426 in mathematics, also six points higher than last year. Puerto Rican students registered a combined score of 777, 14 points higher than last year.

Honig said he is especially pleased that the number of minority students taking the test in California rose again, to make up 37% of the state’s total.

“I think this shows that all kids can do it if they get the right courses and the right encouragement,” Honig said.

Both Honig and Hanford stressed, however, that the average scores are still far below scores of two decades ago.

“Despite the gains of the past few years, we are yet a combined total of 74 points behind the scores of 1963. We still have a long way to go,” Hanford said.