State Students Do Better, But Black, Hispanic Gaps Linger
August 31, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Last spring's college-bound students in Connecticut and across
the nation took tougher mathematics courses in high school and
posted record math scores on the SAT college entrance exam, the
College Board reported Tuesday.
Connecticut again had one of the highest participation rates on the
test of verbal and math skills, and the state's average overall score
was the highest in more than three decades.
The news was tempered, however, by the stubborn achievement gap
that finds black and Hispanic students trailing other students by
Even though Connecticut's black and Hispanic high school graduates
recorded their highest average scores ever, they trailed other black
and Hispanic students nationwide and fell further behind their white
classmates this year.
The encouraging gains in mathematics scores can be traced to growing
numbers of high school students taking more rigorous courses, educators
"I think it's fabulous," said
Cathy Mazzotta, math department chairman at Manchester High School,
where she was teaching advanced placement calculus classes Tuesday.
Manchester High, like many schools, has seen growing numbers of students
taking high-level math courses. Statewide, for example, 46 percent
of the graduates who took the SAT had taken a pre-calculus course in
high school, up from 37 percent in 1998, according to the College Board.
"With a lot of the pressure and bad publicity education has been
getting," Mazzotta said, "it's nice to see a lot of curriculum
changes ... paying off."
Last spring's graduates are the last group to take a version of the
SAT that includes only math and verbal exams. A revised, more rigorous
version of the exam, including a writing test, will be required of
test-takers who are scheduled to graduate next spring.
Here are some of the findings from Tuesday's report:
In Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey, 86 percent of last spring's
high school graduates took the SAT. Only New York, at 92 percent, had
a higher rate. Nationwide, 49 percent of graduates took the test. In
general, higher participation rates result in lower average scores,
Connecticut's graduates averaged 517 of a possible 800 points on both
the verbal and mathematics portion of the test, compared with national
averages of 508 on the verbal test and 520 on the math test. The Connecticut
scores are 15 points higher in math and 10 points higher in verbal
skills than they were a decade ago.
Since last year, the gap in mathematics performance between girls
and boys narrowed to 32 points in Connecticut. Boys' scores remained
unchanged at 534, while girls' scores improved five points to 502.
On the verbal portion of the test, boys statewide scored an average
of 520, compared with 513 for girls.
Wide performance gaps remain among racial and ethnic groups in Connecticut
and the nation. In Connecticut, Asian students had the highest combined
score of any group at 1,098. Whites scored an average of 1,064, Puerto
Ricans 870 and blacks 845.
"I continue to be very concerned about the gap," said Frances
Rabinowitz, associate commissioner at the state Department of Education. "Even
though [black and Hispanic students] did increase their scores,
white students also increased [their scores] by a greater percentage."
In Hartford, where more than 90 percent of schoolchildren are black
or Hispanic, and most are poor, schools have revised the math curriculum,
encouraging students to take more rigorous courses, Superintendent
of Schools Robert Henry said.
"We're offering more honors classes, more [advanced placement]
classes to better prepare them for [state achievement tests], and that
translates to the SAT," Henry said.
The achievement gap has been a high-profile national issue, largely
because of attention created by the 2002 education reform law known
as the No Child Left Behind Act. The federal law calls for a broad
expansion of testing and requires schools to report the results of
various groups, including racial and ethnic minorities.
FairTest, an advocacy group that opposes the use of high-stakes standardized
tests, contended the latest SAT results show that the nation's increasing
focus on testing has had little effect on the achievement gap.
Minor score changes on college entrance
exams "again demonstrate
the failure of the test-and-punish approach to meaningfully improve
the quality of our public schools," the group said in a press
Cathy Seeley, president of the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said she was encouraged by the
overall rise in SAT math scores. "We're
seeing the results of many years of improvement at elementary and middle
schools," she said.
Still, there is much to be done,
she added. "That achievement
gap represents untapped potential," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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