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SAT math scores are highest in 36 years
August 27, 2003

The nation's high school class of 2003 achieved the highest score on the math section of the SAT in at least 36 years - a gain attributed to greater enrollment in advanced math and science courses and the proliferation of high-tech gadgets and  computers.

Students' scores in the verbal section of the test hit a 16-year high.

In Arizona, students beat the national scores on verbal and math tests.

Almost 17,000 Arizona students took the SAT tests.

The College Board, which owns the nation's most popular college entrance exam, said Tuesday that this year's high school graduates had an average cumulative  score of 1,026 points on the SAT, up six points from 2002.

Nationally, both the average math (519) and verbal (507) scores were up three points from last year.

Arizona students scored an average of 524 on the verbal test and 525 on the math test.

"I think our principals and teachers are doing a great job with the resources they have," said Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction.

He said the scores are particularly encouraging given Arizona's low level of education funding, as compared with other states.

"We're not as high as we want to be, but we're making progress and we're working very hard to get there," Horne said.

The improvement in math parallels improvements in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, a national test that measures progress of all students, not just those aspiring to college.

New NAEP math scores will be released in the next six to eight weeks, the first survey since 2000.

"It's fair to say that we are showing some 'up' in mathematics," says NAEP Chairman Darvin Winick.

The College Board said the higher scores were attributed to increased participation in advanced math and science courses such as physics, precalculus,
calculus and chemistry.

The president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics credited teaching methods that include more real-life applications.

Students are "looking at problems that don't just involve pure calculation and computation-type of mathematics," said Johnny Lott. "They're looking at
real-world problem solving."

Although there are no data to support it, College Board President Gaston Caperton said he believes high-tech toys that introduce young children to math and the computer programs that later help them to retain their interest in the subject have also helped boost math scores.

Even as the new scores were being released, debate was already beginning over how much credit reformers can claim for the increase.

Since 1985, much of the national reform effort has focused on building more high-stakes testing and accountability into public education.

The Bush administration's signature No Child Left Behind Act mandates annual testing in reading and mathematics for Grades 3 to 8, with penalties for schools that do not demonstrate "adequate yearly progress."

Yet the states that were poster children for this new approach, Texas and Florida, register only modest, single-digit gains, whereas some states that do not emphasize high-stakes tests show gains in the double digits.

"Texas and Florida have been treading water for years, while states like Vermont are moving ahead much faster than the national average," says Bob
Schaeffer, director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a national advocacy group that is opposed to high-stakes testing. "It undermines the claim that high-stakes tests improve overall education quality."

Overall, some 1.4 million students in the class of 2003 took the SAT during their high school career, and SAT scores play a role in the admissions process at 80 percent of the nation's colleges and universities.

The math and verbal sections of the SAT are each graded on a 200-800 point  scale.

A total of 897 students in the United States had a perfect cumulative score of 1,600 this year.

The nonprofit College Board said 36 percent of those taking the test were minority students, up 6 percent from a decade ago.

"The scores are moving in the right direction," Caperton said. "But we must dedicate ourselves to answering the question about all students: Are they moving in the right direction?"

Results from both tests this year showed the gap between the scores of white students and non-Asian minorities continues to persist.

Overall, this year's average math scores are the highest the College Board could document since at least 1967.

The SAT was first given in 1926.

* More about the SAT results can be found at:  The College Board: www.collegeboard.com