SAT, ACT scores increase: higher scores attributed to more rigorous coursework - Higher Education
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SAT, ACT scores increase: higher scores attributed to more rigorous coursework

by Karin Chenoweth

Students who take more academic courses do significantly better on the SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement tests.


This is true for all students but appears to be particularly true for African-American and other minority students. According to the latest scores issued by the College Board, which reports the national and state-by-state scores on the Scholastic Achievement Test and Advanced Placement tests, minority students comprise almost a third of all students taking the SAT.


Of all the minority groups, Asian Americans made the most significant gains on the SAT over the past ten years, with an increase of 17 points on both the verbal and math parts of the test. American Indians followed close behind those gains with increases of 12 points on the verbal and 14 points on the math scores. African-American students continued a long trend of increased scores, posting a six-point increase on the verbal part of the test and an 11-point increase on the math part of the test.

Those gains take into account the “recentering” the College Board undertook last year which slightly changed the way the scores are reported. In releasing its improved scores, the College Board pointed to an increase in the number of academic core courses being taken by high school students today in comparison to ten years ago. The College Board reported that 41 percent of students taking the SAT took 20 or more year-long academic courses in high school — the highest level of study ever reported by SAT takers.


Those who reported this much study were 45 percent of the women 44 percent of the Asian-American, white and “other” students; 37 percent of men and non-Mexican Hispanics; 27 percent of African-American students; and 23 percent of Mexican-American students.


The same trend was reported by ACT, the other major standardized test used by college admissions offices to screen students for admission. ACT scores have been going up since 1992, when the national composite score was 20.6 (on a scale from 1 to 36), where it had been for several years. This year the national composite score was 20.9. ACT attributed the higher score to the fact that more students — especially females and minorities are taking higher-level “core” courses, which it defines as English, math, social studies and science.


In a written statement ACT president Richard L. Ferguson said, “The relationship between increases in preparation and higher average scores can readily be seen in the recent performance of Native American students.


Although just over half of them report core preparation, and they have some distance to go to catch up to the majority population, they have increased the size of their core-completing contingent nearly 8 percent since 1992, from 43.4 to 51.1 percent. And that has translated into composite score increases in every one of the last four years. No other ACT-tested group, minority or majority, has made comparable overall gains over this period.


Although African-American students who took the SAT posted gains in averages, those who took the ACT dipped slightly. The ACT attributed that dip to a.1 decline in science reasoning, which it in turn blamed on the fact that a lower than average percentage of African-American students completed science courses through physics.


The College Board also reported that the number of students taking Advanced Placement exams has more than doubled over the past ten years. Some ethnic groups exceeded that by many times. The number of African-American students taking AP exams, for example, more than tripled — and Mexican-American students more than quintupled — over that period of time. Many colleges and universities grant college credit to students who pass the advanced placement exams. Students take advanced placement exams after taking a course which is specifically geared to the exam.

                                Average SAT Scores
                                   1987    1996
VERBAL                              507     505
   MALE                             512     507
   FEMALE                           502     503
MATH                                501     508
   MALE                             523     527
   FEMALE                           481     492
                                    1987    1996
American Indian/ Alaskan Native       1%      1%
Asian American/ Pacific Islander      6%      9%
Black or African American             9%     11%
Hispanic or Latino                    5%      8%
White                                78%     69%
Other                                 1%      3%
COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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