The College Board decries preparation gap


The College Board released the profile of the 1998
college freshmen who took SAT and AP (Advanced Placement) exams, saying
that the number of well-prepared students of all ethnicities is
increasing — as well as the number of poorly prepared students.

The stark contrast led Dr. Donald Stewart, head of the College Board, to decry the “widening gap in preparation.”

More than one million of today’s freshmen took the SAT and they
took more than one million AP tests, so the data collected from those
students allows an intimate look at the high school preparation of a
huge cohort of students. The SAT and AP are used by many of the
selective colleges in the country as a way to sort through applications
for admissions.

Almost 20 percent more African Americans took the SAT in 1998 than
in 1988 — and the number of Mexican Americans almost doubled during
those ten years. But while there was a slight rise in the average math
scores for population as a whole, for those two groups.

Although The College Board cautions against using its data as a
surrogate for school accountability, the SAT is widely used as a
measure of school performance, and average scores are eagerly studied
to give some idea of where the nation stands educationally.

The most striking differences the College Board found in average
SAT scores was between suburban schools and schools in both urban and
rural areas. Suburban schools logged in average scores that were 15 to
20 twenty points above the average, whereas urban and rural schools had
average scores that were between 9 and 17 points below the average.

According to College Board data, between 40 and 50 percent of
African American and Hispanic Americans who take the SAT are clustered
in the urban and rural schools.

This gap is also reflected in the schools that offer AP exams which
are now offered in more than 50 percent of all high schools. However,
those high schools tend to be either in the suburbs or urban magnet
schools, rather than in rural areas or run-of-the-mill urban schools
that serve many African American and Hispanic students.

Even so, the number of African American students taking AP exams
has more than doubled in the last ten years — from 10,448 in 1988 to
27,054 in 1998. African Americans now make up 6 percent of all students
who take AP exams, although they are only 3 percent of those achieving
a grade of 3, 4, or 5 (3 is considered passing).

“Some people may think AP is only available to students of
privilege,” said Wade Curry, director of the Advanced Placement
program. “Not true. AP teachers are raising the hopes and potential of
an increasingly diverse population in 55 percent of all high schools.
Eighty percent of those schools are public, 12 percent are religiously
affiliated, and 8 percent are independent.”

Curry said that the fact that the AP program is not available in 46 percent of schools is a “social injustice.”

Thirteen states now subsidize AP exam fees for students, and nine
other states provide some other kind of support. This is particularly
true in the South, where some governors have promoted the AP, which has
been seen as a tool of school reform. In addition, federal grants are
subsidizing exam fees for low-income students in thirty-two states.

Although they are both administered by The College Board, the SAT
and the AP are very different kinds of tests. The SAT, says The College
Board, is a measure of abstract reasoning skills that are only loosely
tied to the high school curriculum — although students who take a
strong academic curriculum tend to do better than students who do not.

The AP tests, however, are tests of particular curricula that are
developed by the AP program and taught by teachers trained to teach the
curricula. Tests are administered in such subjects as American history,
calculus, physics, and foreign languages.

Some high schools have recently been found to use the SAT — or its
preparatory analog, the PSAT — as a filter to keep students from
taking AP courses.

“We are concerned about this issue,” said Howard Everson, vice president for teaching and learning at The College Board.

Everson said that The College Board had recently surveyed tens of
thousands of students and found that AP courses benefitted all
students, no matter what their PSAT scores were.

Stewart agreed, saying, “We don’t want one test to be a barrier for another.”

One of the more disturbing findings of The College Board, according
to Gretchen Rigol, vice president of guidance, access, and assessment
services for The College Board, was that African American and Mexican
American students who take the SAT continue to take fewer years of core
academic courses than other students. And that gap holds even when the
students are from high-income (above $80,000-a-year) households.

“I think that’s so dangerous,” Rigol said. “In some cases, [the
students are] getting good advice. But sometimes they’re getting
stereotypical advice. What we can do is point out the data and ask why
this is.”

Number of Students Taking the SAT, by Race/Ethnicity

Race/Ethnicity 1998 1997 1988

American Indian/Alaskan Native 10,159 10,677 12,330
Asian/Asian American/Pacific
Islander 94,066 89,238 64,102
African American 114,912 110,462 97,483
Mexican/Mexican American 41,028 39,737 22,722
Puerto Rican 13,635 13,208 11,497
Other Hispanic 35,749 33,123 20,213
White 704,462 693,738 813,116
Other 35,762 31,050 14,094
No racial/ethnic identification 123,006 105,792 --
Total(*) 1,049,773 1,021,223 1,055,557

Mean Scores by Race/Ethnicity

Race/Ethnicity SAT I Verbal SAT I Math

American Indian/Alaskan Native 480 483
Asian/Asian American/Pacific
Islander 498 562
African American 434 426
Mexican/Mexican American 453 460
Puerto Rican 452 447
Other Hispanic 461 466
White 526 528
Other 511 514
No racial/ethnic identification 490 503

Combined Verbal and Math SAT Scores

1190 or 1200 or
Race/Ethnicity Total less more

American Indian/Alaskan Native 10,159 8,970 1,189
Asian/Asian American/Pacific
Islander 94,066 67,200 26,866
African American 114,912 109,925 4,987
Mexican/Mexican American 41,028 38,055 2,973
Puerto Rican 13,635 12,724 911
Other Hispanic 35,749 32,173 3,576
White 704,462 539,799 164,663
Other 35,762 27,744 8,018
No racial/ethnic identification 54,634 43,673 10,961
Total 1,104,407 880,263 224,144

(*) Does not include people with no racial/ethnic identification

SOURCE: The College Board

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