COLLEGE-BOUND high school seniors turned in a mixed performance on this year's Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). Scores released today show improvement in math but slipping scores on verbal portions of the test.
The average math score increased one point over last year, continuing an upward trend that has raised the average math score from 466 in 1980 to 479 this year. But verbal scores fell one point to an average of 423 this year, perpetuating a stagnant pattern since the 1980 score of 424. The SAT is scored on a scale from 200 to 800.
The College Board, which gives the test to more than 1 million students each year, calls both trends ``favorable'' considering the rising percentage of students taking the test.
``The population of SAT takers has grown from 33 to 42 percent of graduates since 1980,'' says Donald Stewart, the College Board's president. A record 31 percent of test-takers are racial and ethnic minorities this year, double the 1976 level when scores were first tracked by ethnic group.
The downward pressure that comes from a broader set of test-takers has been offset by the ``significant strides women of all ethnic backgrounds have made in math and science study,'' Mr. Stewart says. Men still score better than women on both sections of the SAT, but female students are beginning to close the gender gap. Average scores for women rose one point on the verbal portion of the test and three points on math. Men's average scores fell three points on verbal and one point on math.
``Even though women are still the minority in many math and science classes, their numbers are rising faster than those of men, and those gains are reflected in their SAT scores,'' Stewart says.
But SAT critics are not impressed. ``At the current pace, it will take another 25 years to eliminate the SAT gender gap, even though the test-makers admit that their exam consistently underpredicts the abilities of young women,'' says Pamela Zappardino, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing in Cambridge, Mass.
The persistent decline in overall verbal scores may be a result of decreased academic study in the field of English, says Howard Everson, a senior research scientist at the College Board.
``Since 1987, English has been the only academic area to experience a drop in the percentage of students who study the subject four or more years,'' he says. ``It may be a coincidence, but SAT verbal scores were also dropping during this period.''
The average SAT scores announced today reflect the performance of high school seniors who took the ``new'' SAT in March 1994. Format changes in the test represent the most significant alterations in 20 years. Yet the College Board says ``SAT changes had no effect on test difficulty or score distributions.''
The College Board will ``recenter'' scores beginning in 1996, raising every student's score slightly. But scores for the Class of 1994 have not been recentered, officials say.