Average SAT Scores Slip; Ethnics Gain : 1st Decline in 8 Years; Minorities Continue Decade-Long Pattern

Associated Press

Average SAT scores lost ground in 1988 for the first time in eight years, but minority students continued a decade-long pattern of impressive gains, the College Board reported today.

Scores on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test fell two points to an average 428, while the average on the math section was unchanged at 476, according to the board’s annual report.

Both portions of the multiple-choice exam taken each year by 1.1 million college-bound students are scored on a scale of 200 to 800, with a combined 1,600 being perfect.

1st Decline in 8 Years


The combined math-verbal average of 904 marked the first decline in eight years. The national average hit a low of 890 in 1980, recovered a bit to 906 by 1985 and was unchanged until this year’s slight decline.

Ironically, the release of the SAT averages coincided with the planned departure Tuesday of U.S. Education Secretary William J. Bennett, who during his 3 1/2 years in office had credited the Reagan Administration with spurring reforms that until this year had helped produce gradually improving SAT scores.

In a statement today, Bennett blamed the school Establishment for the falloff in scores: “No medals for America in this news. I said in April that ‘the absolute level at which our improvements are taking place is unacceptably low.’ Today it’s a bit lower, and still not acceptable. C’mon, team! Back into training.”

College Board officials nonetheless cheered the “stability” of test scores in recent years.


“We’re pleased, frankly, that there is as much stability in the scores as the data suggests,” board President Donald M. Stewart told reporters. He noted that scores were generally holding up even though the number of test-takers has risen 13% since 1986 and the number of minority test-takers was up 23,066, or 1%, in the last year alone.

Minority students in the class of ’88, especially blacks, posted the strongest gains. Verbal scores among blacks last year rose an average of two points to 353, and math scores rose seven points to 384--doubly impressive since the number of black test-takers rose 39% in three years from 70,156 in 1985 to 97,483 last year, said the board’s research director, Robert G. Cameron.

Reasons for Gains Unclear

Stewart said it is unclear why minority students were gaining. One explanation is that federal programs such as Head Start begun in the 1960s and 1970s and aimed at assisting poor students are paying off in higher minority SAT scores.


Since 1976, the first year the College Board compiled ethnic data, combined scores by blacks have climbed 51 points. But they still trail average white test-takers by 198 points.

Among Mexican-Americans, verbal scores were up three points over last year to 382 and math scores up four to 428. Their combined gains since 1976 amount to 29 points.