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College Testing Groups Release 2003 Scores

College Testing Groups Release 2003 Scores
SAT math scores hit 35-year high, but college-readiness benchmark still low for Black students


Officials from the nation’s two largest college admissions testing organizations had positive news to report last month about the high school class of 2003, but seemed to differ on how to interpret that news in relation to math proficiency.

The high school class of 2003 earned an average composite score of 20.8 on the ACT college entrance exam, matching last year’s total, but the test-maker warned that more than half of this year’s students may not be ready for college-level coursework in either math or science.

At the same time, the College Board, which administers the SAT, reported significant gains in both SAT math and verbal average scores, noting that this year marks the highest level for math scores in more than 35 years. This year’s test-takers earned average scores of 519 for math and 507 for verbal, both representing three-point increases from last year.

Both organizations reported a record-breaking number of students taking the tests. Nearly 1.2 million high-schoolers took the ACT, the nation’s second-largest admissions test, a record number, up from about 1.1 million last year. As well, 1.4 million students took the SAT, more than ever before.

Richard Ferguson, ACT’s chief executive officer was encouraged that overall scores remained steady even as the number of test-takers grew by more than 5 percent.

“We might expect the average score to decline, since we are likely adding students from a wider range of academic achievement,” Ferguson said in a statement. “Instead, we have seen remarkable stability in the average ACT score.”

College Board President Gaston Caperton expressed similar sentiments.

“Higher SAT scores, a record number of test-takers, and more diversity add up to a brighter picture for American education. While we certainly need to make more progress, the fact remains that we are clearly headed in the right direction,” Caperton said in a statement.

This year, however, the ACT also examined test scores to look at skills students will need for first-year math, science and English courses in college.

Researchers concluded that just 26 percent of test-takers were ready to handle the coursework in science and 40 percent in math. In English, 67 percent of students were prepared. The ACT said students who take more and tougher math and science courses in high school tend to score better on the exam.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the inadequacy of students’ writing skills. However, it appears that the more critical problems are in science and math,” Ferguson said.

Readiness for college science and math coursework was particularly low among African American students. Only 5 percent of African American test-takers scored at or above the college-readiness benchmark for college biology, and just 10 percent attained the readiness benchmark for college algebra.

Ferguson said Black students were less likely than others to take tough, college-prep courses and “often don’t receive the information and guidance they need to properly plan for college.”

SAT officials, however, reported that the average score on the math section has increased 19 points for females during the past decade and 13 points for males. Overall math scores are up 16 points compared to 1993. They attribute the increases for math scores to an increased percentage of SAT takers enrolled in advanced math and science course work, such as chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus. The percentage of students taking precalculus, for example, has increased by 12 percentage points over the past decade. First-generation college students who took calculus in high school had an average SAT verbal score of 526 and a math score of 570, 19 and 51 points above the national average, respectively.

— Associated Press and news releases

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