FOR the second year in a row, Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) scores for college-bound high schoolers increased slightly.
The average score on the verbal portion of the test was 424 (on a scale of 200 to 800), 1 point above last year's score. The average math score was 478, 2 points above the 1992 average.
"It is encouraging that average scores have risen for the second consecutive year, and that math scores have improved by 10 points in the decade since 'A Nation at Risk' was published," says Donald Stewart, president of the College Board, which administers the test taken by more than a million high school seniors each year.
But Mr. Stewart says he is still concerned about the "painfully slow academic recovery." This year's average verbal score remains 1 point below the 1983 score, and both math and verbal scores are well below student performance during the 1960s.
A RECORD 30 percent of test-takers this year were minorities. Although most minority groups show improved SAT scores, the gap between male and female scores has grown. Women's scores went up 1 point on both verbal and math sections while men's scores increased 3 points on math and stayed unchanged on the verbal section.
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) in Cambridge, Mass., charges that the growing gap between male and female scores demonstrates "the fundamental flaws" of the SAT. "Though their own researchers admit the SAT is biased against young women, the test-makers still haven't done anything to address this problem or the damage caused by using unfair scores to award scholarships and determine college admission," says Cinthia Schuman, executive director of FairTest.
Pupils in large cities and rural areas scored lower than those in suburbia.
To help raise scores, he advises that students take the highest-level courses they can. In all academic areas included on the SAT, the highest-scoring students took the most advanced course - calculus for math and physics for science, for example.
"We should be proud of the signs of academic improvement in recent years," Stewart says. "But there is still a lot of hard work to be done. Too many students are not being held to rigorous academic standards or exposed to a challenging curriculum."