News Analysis

News: Educational Tests


>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles



SAT math scores hit 30-year high: Average verbal score falls 2 points since last year (CNN, 020827)

Schools blamed for racial gap in SAT scores (CNN, 010828)

Putting American students to the test (CNN, 010426)

Test-takers’ verdict on new SAT: It’s long (WorldNetDaily, 050314)





SAT math scores hit 30-year high: Average verbal score falls 2 points since last year (CNN, 020827)


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- SAT math scores among college-bound students this year hit their highest level in more than three decades, according to a College Board report, which noted that the math gender gap is closing as females’ scores rise closer to those of males.


The average SAT math score rose two points from last year to 516, continuing a 10-year trend upward. That’s the highest level in 32 years and it represents a 15 point gain over the last 10 years, College Board officials said.


Girls’ average math scores hit a 35-year high of 500. Still, the gap has not been closed -- the average score for male test-takers is 534. The board attributed the two-point hike to female college-bound seniors taking more rigorous math and science classes. The percentage of girls taking precalculus, for example, has risen from 31 to 44 over the last decade.


But the news was not as good for verbal scores, according to the report released Tuesday, as the 504 overall average for the 1.3 million students bound for college this year shows a slight decline of two points from 2001.


Although continuing improvement in math scores reflects a higher emphasis on math and science in high schools, “Apparently we haven’t been paying the same kind of attention to teaching of English,” said College Board President Gaston Caperton.


Reading and writing will be given new emphasis in SATs in the future. Starting in 2005, a new writing test will be administered on the SAT taken by the class of 2006, the officials said.


During a news conference, College Board officials lamented decreasing student participation in English composition and grammar coursework.


But they said parents can also help by encouraging their kids to read and write more on their own. “If parents do nothing more,” Caperton said, “They need to get watch less television and read more.”


The reading habits of parents can greatly influence those of their children, according to Wayne Camara, the College Board’s vice president of research and development.

[Average verbal score falls 2 points since last year]


“Today, 13 and 17 year olds are much less likely to read for fun than they were in the early 80’s,” Camara said. “Also they are much less likely to see their parents reading in the home than they were in the 70’s and 80’s and further, they are much more likely to be watching 3 or more hours of television a day.”


Other trends among SAT takers include:


* 46 percent of this year’s high school graduates took the SAT (1.3 million), the highest percentage ever.


* 35 percent of minority students took the SAT, an all-time high.


* 37 percent of SAT takers will be first-generation college students.


* Suburban students continue to have scores about 30 points higher than students from rural areas and large cities.


The College Board, which administers the SAT, attributed the math increase to greater participation among students in advanced math classes.


“This year’s scores confirm that the efforts that have been made to improve math education in the United States are paying off,” College Board President Gaston Caperton said in a prepared statement.




ACT test scores dip slightly (CNN, 020821)


Maker: Drop due to younger students taking exams


Scores dipped for the high school class of 2002 on the ACT college entrance exam, breaking a five-year streak during which results remained unchanged, the test maker said Wednesday.


ACT Inc., a non-profit based in Iowa City, Iowa, said the drop was to be expected because Illinois and Colorado began requiring that all high school juniors, starting with the class of ‘02, take the test whether or not they are enrolled in college-prep courses.


Using scores students received on the latest ACT they took, 2002 graduates averaged a composite of 20.8, down from the 21 average maintained from 1997 to 2001.


More students than ever took the ACT, 1.12 million of this year’s graduates, or about 46,000 more than last year.


This year’s results are the first since Illinois and Colorado began assessing their public schools by having all 11th-graders take the ACT at state expense, even if they don’t plan on attending college.


Richard Ferguson, chief executive of ACT, said in a statement that the requirement had a positive result: “Thousands of students in Illinois and Colorado who had not indicated an interest in attending college were identified as ready for college coursework.”

States mandate test for 11th-graders


Illinois added the ACT to its two days of state tests to assess learning. Colorado is using ACT scores to evaluate schools, but also to encourage more students to attend college.


In Illinois, the state average this year was 20.1, down from 21.6, when the test was taken by an estimated 71 percent of 2001 graduates.


Colorado’s state average was also 20.1 this year, down from 21.5 last year, when an estimated 62 percent of graduates had taken the test.


David Bahna, an assessment consultant in Colorado’s Education Department declined to comment on the scores before seeing results from other states.


Robert Schiller, Illinois schools superintendent, said his state’s policy might open doors for students unable to afford the $25 test fee, or who never realized they were college material.


In college admissions, the ACT is designed for use with high school grades to predict academic readiness for college. Scored on a 1-36 point scale, the ACT is actually four exams: English, reading, mathematics and science.


Standardized college tests are regularly criticized as unfair because of gender and race disparity in scores.


This year on the ACT, males averaged modestly better than females, 20.9 compared with 20.7, respectively, the same gap as in recent years. But girls also comprised 56 percent of ‘02 test takers.


Differences in scores between whites and minorities also continued.


Last year, average scores for whites and Asian-Americans were 21.8 and 21.7, respectively, while blacks averaged 16.9.


This year, whites averaged 21.7; Asian-Americans, 21.6; blacks, 16.8. (Hispanic students were in two groups: Puerto Rican/Hispanics, who averaged 18.8, and Mexican-American/Chicano, 18.2)


While some four-year colleges and universities do not require entrance exams, most do. Most schools accept either the ACT or its competitor, the SAT.


The SAT, owned by the New York-based College Board, was taken at least once by 1.3 million of 2002 high school graduates. Those scores are to be released next Tuesday.




Schools blamed for racial gap in SAT scores (CNN, 010828)


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More minority students than ever before took the College Board’s Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in 2001, but the group’s president said Tuesday that more should be done to close widening racial gaps in exam results.


“Tests are not the problem,” said College Board President Gaston Caperton at a Washington news conference. “Students are not the problem. The problem we have is an unfair education system in America -- an unequal education system.”


Average 2001 SAT scores among minority students continued to trail scores among whites in both verbal and math categories, with the exception of Asian-American students, who outperformed all others in math.


In addition, average scores by African-American, American Indian and Hispanic students trailed average results among whites by a larger margin in 2001 then they did a decade ago.


Minorities comprised more than a third of the 1.3 million people who took the 2001 SAT, compared with 28 percent in 1991.


“2001 seniors are the largest number and the most diverse group in (the test’s) history,” Caperton said. The largest increase in the gap between white and non-white GPAs from 1991 to 2001 was among white and Puerto Rican students. The average GPA for Puerto Ricans who took the SAT was .14 lower than their white counterparts in 2001 than it was in 1991.


The SAT is one of two assessment exams in the United States that are widely used as a major factor in determining a student’s acceptance to colleges and universities. The other is the ACT Assessment.


This year ACT national averages showed trends similar to the SAT. Average ACT results among Black and Latino students over the past five years dropped, while scores for white students rose slightly, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.


But the SAT and ACT recently have been targeted by critics who accuse the tests of being unfairly culturally weighted against women, minorities and lower economic classes.


Last year, Ethnic NewsWatch reported that the Educational Testing Service was researching possible ways to re-interpret SAT scores so test takers from low-income or non-white backgrounds could be more accurately evaluated.


Other critics say the SAT isn’t an accurate assessment of a student because it does not follow typical high school curriculum as closely as the ACT exam.


Agreeing with that argument, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo announced in July it would no longer require SAT results for admission, favoring instead the ACT, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.


More than 300 schools, most of them small, private institutions, have dropped their SAT requirements, according to the newspaper.


Caperton defended the SAT, saying it “tests your ability to read and comprehend and answer questions. It tests your ability to solve math problems using basic math, algebra and a little geometry -- basically your ability to think in words and numbers.”


The former West Virginia governor denied that standardized tests have barred minorities from opportunities in higher education.


“I don’t think we pay our teachers well enough,” Caperton said. “I don’t think we’re attracting enough teachers and the teachers of less quality are usually going into the areas where we need the most improvement and where we need the best teachers ... and that’s what we would like to do something about.”


Overall, 2001 SAT statistics did show some promising figures. 2001’s average verbal score was one point higher than last year’s, and the highest since 1987. Math scores averaged the same as 2000’s 30-year high.


Average exam scores for minorities rose slightly from 2000 to 2001 on the verbal portion of the exam, although the minority average remained virtually the same on the math portion of the test.




Putting American students to the test (CNN, 010426)


Politicians, polls to increased importance of assessment exams


(CNN) -- President George W. Bush has proposed math and science testing in all U.S. schools, every year in grades 3 through 8, tying schools’ federal funding to the results. In some states, like Massachusetts, students cannot graduate unless they pass assessment tests.


All states now require students take math and reading tests in at least two grades, and 38 states reward or punish schools districts based on student performance, according to the Education Commission of the States. The National Association of State Boards of Education said states spend $423 million a year on testing.


Yes. Statewide and national assessment tests carry too much weight

No. That argument is overblown

Sometimes. It depends on the state, school and teacher

View Results


“The good news is that they are beginning to show results in the classroom, but the bad news is that the tests are looming too large,” Virginia Edwards, editor of Education Week, which published the results of a 50-state survey of teachers feelings on such exams.


The study said about 70 percent of teachers thought instruction emphasizes the tests “far” or “somewhat” too much, forcing them into “teaching to test.” The report also said most teachers felt the exams’ increasing importance put undue pressure on students.


“Our concern is that unless states balance the pressures they’re now putting on schools and students with the training and materials needed to do the job, their high expectations won’t be realized,” Edwards said.


Recent polls, in addition to Bush’s initiatives, suggest testing is here to stay. A Harris Poll released in March said 87 percent of Americans favor testing students annually in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math -- consistent with Bush’s proposal. Another 78 percent favor making principals and teachers more accountable for how well or badly students do.


“I’ve never had to take a test this important before,” said Jason Henriquez, a 17-year-old sophomore at Lowell High School, while prepping for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test earlier this month.


“I have been getting more and more nervous every day, and nervous people tend to bomb things. I’m really worried about that.”




Test-takers’ verdict on new SAT: It’s long (WorldNetDaily, 050314)


(AP) -- After being drilled in a test-prep class, Sheryl Nagy wasn’t fazed by the new essay section of the revamped SAT exam.


She just wasn’t sure the test -- 45 minutes longer this year and nearly 4 hours in all -- would ever end.


“After a while you just stop caring and want it to be over,” Nagy, a junior at Burbank High School in California, said after Saturday’s test. “They added a lot of reading comprehension, and it was just hard to keep reading and reading and reading.”


Some 330,000 mostly grumpy high-schoolers became the first to officially take the revamped SAT college entrance exam this weekend. While the new, 25-minute essay at the start of the test generated much of the buzz and anxiety, students quickly discovered they were hardly home free after finishing it.


“My neck is killing me,” said Brenda Torrentes of Hialeah, Florida, emerging around 1 p.m. from Miami Springs Senior High School. A senior, she was trying to improve the scores she earned on the old version, and said the essay went well.


“When I first started, I had to think about what I was going to write about, but I stayed calm and I ended up finishing on time,” she said.


Others weren’t as satisfied.


“I ran out of time, actually, so my ending was rushed and I didn’t finish it as strongly as I hoped,” said Carter Butland, a junior at Upper Arlington High School in Columbus, Ohio. But he said a test-prep course helped at least somewhat: he could skip reading the directions.


In several eastern states, test-takers reported they were asked in the essay to take a stand on whether majority rule is a good way for groups to make decisions. In California, Nagy said she and others were asked to write about whether creativity has a role in the contemporary world. A spokeswoman for the College Board, the not-for-profit group that owns the test, said last week there would be multiple questions, but would not say how many for security reasons.


Students who took the test Saturday can get their scores starting April 11, and they are sure to be different. While the old test had two sections, each scored on a 200-800 point scale, the new one has three -- writing, critical reading and math. So in the coming weeks a scattered handful of geniuses could become the first students ever to score a perfect 2400.


The changes were designed to make the test better reflect what students should be learning in school. In addition to the essay, the College Board added grammar and reading questions. Vocabulary analogies and quantitative comparisons were eliminated.


Finishing the test in a whopping 3 hours 45 minutes meant it was time for the students to relax, but for the College Board, the work is just beginning.


The essays will be scanned, then the images downloaded by thousands of essay graders, mainly high school and college teachers. Each essay will be scored from 1 to 6 by two graders; if the readers disagree by more than one point, the essay goes to a third.

The College Board says the challenge won’t be fundamentally different from grading the SAT II writing exam. In past years, many colleges required that test and many SAT test-takers would have taken it separately. Now, it has simply been folded into the new, main SAT exam.


Some students are skeptical about mass-grading of essays.


“I just hope that they will be able to grade all these essays accurately and fairly,” Eli Silverstein said after taking the test in New Brunswick, N.J. “Because having, let’s say, a million people (take) a million essays and a million different graders, it’s not going to be a total accurate grading scale in my opinion.”


The only bigger bummer than getting up and spending a Saturday morning to take the SAT? Getting up and not taking it. Dylan Ottman showed up at Westboro High School, in Westboro, Massachusetts, only to discover it was one of about 50 testing centers, mostly in New England, where the test was postponed because of inclement weather. Adding insult, the makeup date is April 2 -- her birthday.


“It’s really stressful, because my whole life is the SAT,” said Ottman, who had taken a prep course and said that now she’ll probably spend more time preparing.