The nation’s high school class of 2005 posted a record-high score on the math portion of the SAT, but displayed a lack of progress on the verbal part of the widely used college-entrance examination, test officials said Tuesday.
As a whole, students who graduated this spring and were 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. In math, Asian Americans and whites scored 580 and 536, respectively. In contrast, Mexican Americans scored 463 and blacks, 431.
The nonprofit College Board, which owns the Scholastic Assessment Test, also released preliminary results of its new essay-writing test, which was 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 fears that the test was either too difficult or too easy. Many testing experts expect that score will decline, at least in the short term, and several said the jury remains out on the test’s significance.
In California, half of 2005’s graduates took the SAT. Their 504 verbal score somewhat lagged behind the nation’s score, but their 522 in math slightly outshone seniors elsewhere. Both scores were up three points from the year before.
Among the state’s public high school students, 146,877 took the SAT, an increase of 5.5% over the class of 2004, the state Department of Education said.
“Results are on the rise at the same time more students are taking the tests, and the pool of test-takers is increasingly diverse,” Jack O’Connell, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, said Tuesday.
College Board officials, at a Washington, D.C., 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 period is troubling, said College Board President Gaston Caperton.
He said the flat scores indicated a “need to redouble efforts to emphasize the core literacy skills of reading and writing in all courses across the curriculum starting in the earliest grades.”
About 98% of the students whose scores were included in the class of 2005 results that were released Tuesday took the older version of the test, which lacked the essay.
However, the College Board separately made public the first round of average scores on the new test, which was first offered last spring and taken mainly by students who are going to be high school seniors this year. The first average scores on the essay portion, 516, were lower than the grades on the other two parts of the test, 537 in math and 519 in verbal, which is now called critical reading.
Officials expect the next round of writing scores to decline.
That is 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 touted what is now a three-part exam lasting three hours and 45 minutes. He said that the essay portion 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 that he believes that writing “will improve in this country because we put it 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. Neill called Caperton’s assertion that the new test would improve writing “a joke.”
“These are short, write-to-a-prompt tests that encourage highly mechanical training in how to beat the test,” Neill said.
Jennifer Karan, national director of SAT programs for the test-preparation firm Kaplan Inc., said it would take at least six months to a year to gauge the new exam.
Karan said that many elite colleges are using it in their admissions decisions, but other schools are taking a “wait and see” attitude.
“College admissions counselors are of mixed opinions on this,” Karan said, citing a recent survey by her company. “Some feel it’s a step in the right direction, but others feel it doesn’t take things in the direction they had hoped” as an instrument to improve writing skills.
A spokeswoman for the University of California, where concerns about the SAT as a predictor of college success helped prompt the revisions nationally, also said it was too early to evaluate the writing test.
“We believed that the writing portion of the exam would be a good indicator of how successful a student would be in college, but we won’t really know that until at least the first class” of test-takers “has graduated from college,” said UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina.
More than 1.5 million high school seniors or juniors took the SAT last year.
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High school graduates of 2005 were the last to take the SAT college-entrance exam with two parts, math and verbal.
Mean SAT scores for college-bound seniors
*--* Verbal Math ’04 ’05 ’04 ’05 All 508 513 518 520 Men 512 513 537 538 Women 504 505 501 504
*--* Verbal Math ’04 ’05 ’04 ’05 All 501 504 519 522
Source: College Board