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Minority Test Takers Make Significant Gains on SAT

Minority Test Takers Make Significant Gains on SAT
But achievement gap between White, minority students persists
By Cassie Chew

Among the record 1.4 million college-bound students in the class of 2004 who took the SAT, another record number of these SAT takers, 37 percent, were minority students, the College Board said in its annual report of SAT takers and their scores released last month. In addition to the increase in the number of minorities who took the exam, the College Board reported significant gains among minority test takers. But it also reported that the achievement gaps between White students and students from other racial and minority groups persist.
With a composite score of 1200 on her SAT, Howard University freshman Ebonique Ellis outscored many of her fellow classmates on the SAT. The national average verbal score among the class of 2004 test takers was 508, up one point from last year, and the average math score was 518, down one point from 2003.
The average score of African American SAT takers dipped one point on the verbal section of the exam to 430, compared to the 2003 average, while the average math score rose one point to 427. Compared to the scores of 10 years ago, the average verbal score among African American students in 2004 made a two-point gain, while the average math score is up six points from 1994. Overall, however, African Americans still score the lowest on the exam compared to other minority groups.
Students from other racial and ethnic groups made significant gains in their average score on the college readiness exam.
The verbal score for Mexican Americans rose three points to 451, and their math score rose one point to 458 compared to Mexican Americans in the class of 2003. Scores among the College Board’s “other” Hispanic students (those identifying themselves as Latin American, South American, Central American, or other Hispanic or Latino) averaged a four-point gain on the verbal test to 461 and a one-point gain on the math score to 465 over last year’s average.
The College Board reported that the number of Mexican American SAT takers increased by 63 percent between 1994 and 2004. SAT takers in its “other” Hispanics category increased 64 percent during the same time period. Also, the College Board reported that 69 percent of the Mexican American students and 55 percent of the “other” Hispanic students are first-generation college students.
“This recent increase in Latino student SAT scores is a positive sign that colleges and universities may see an increase in the number of students from Latino backgrounds who pursue postsecondary education,” said Dr. Steven B. Sample, president of the University of Southern California, in the College Board press release.
Scores also increased for American Indians whose average verbal score rose three points to 483 and math score rose six points to 488 over the 2003 averages.
The largest 10-year verbal score gain was among Asian American students whose average score rose 18 points, and Puerto Ricans, whose score rose 13 points. The largest 10-year math score gains also were among Asian Americans, up 24 points, and American Indians, up 18 points.
Not everyone was impressed with this year’s SAT scores, however.
Said FairTest public education director Bob Schaeffer in a press release: “One- or two- point, year-to-year shifts are far less important to the country’s educational health than the fact that the SAT remains a poor predictor of academic performance, systematically misasseses the capabilities of many applicants, and is becoming increasingly susceptible to high-priced test preparation courses. The so-called ‘new’ SAT, to be introduced next year, fails to address any of these problems. That is a major reason more and more colleges are dropping the SAT as an admissions requirement.”

The Course Gap
The College Board also reported a gap in course-taking patterns between White students and students from other racial and ethnic groups continues.
Thirteen percent of the African American SAT takers and 18 percent of both Mexican American and “other” Hispanic SAT takers took calculus during high school compared to 27 percent of White and 43 percent of Asian American students, according to the College Board report.
New Howard University classics major Ellis had a first-hand experience with this gap. During her freshman, sophomore and junior years, Ellis attended a high school in an affluent section of Harford County, Md. However, her senior year was completed at a high school in a less affluent part of the county.
“My senior year [English curriculum] was like my freshman year, and they didn’t have any advanced math and science courses,” Ellis said.
Other findings in this year’s survey of SAT takers indicate that compared to 1994 there has been a significant drop in the percentage of students taking English composition and grammar courses while more students are studying pre-calculus, calculus, physics and chemistry. The survey of students also found a slight drop in the percentage of students in the class of 2004 that plan to pursue advanced degrees in graduate school.
Next spring students will begin taking the new SAT, which will include a writing section, higher-level math and more reading passages.
In the new version of the exam, students will be required to produce a draft of an essay that is designed to assess students’ ability to think critically and to write effectively under time constraints similar to those they will encounter on essay exams in college courses, according to the College Board.
The new section is designed “to make a statement that writing is important,” and to encourage schools to make writing a strong part of the curriculum, said Bernard A. Phelan, an advanced placement English language and composition teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School in Flossmoor, Ill.
“The college folks have made complaints that students can’t write in the way they want for college. If students are doing writing as part of a good program at high school, when they get to college they should be better writers,” said Phelan, a member of the SAT board of trustees and the SAT English composition/writing committee.

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