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SAT Math Scores Keep Adding Up

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 significant margins.

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 said.

"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, educators say.

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 release.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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