SAT, ACT math scores don't add up
One exam finds improvement; other finds drop
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
September 8, 2003
First, the maker of America's second-most-popular college entrance exam
releases this year's test scores and declares incoming freshmen largely
unprepared for math and science classes. A week later, results from the nation's
No. 1 test show math scores at a 35-year high.
In the wake of the annual release of ACT and SAT test scores, educators are
still disagreeing about what to make of the results. One testing critic calls
the discrepancy a result of marketing efforts aimed at setting the two exams
"These are businesses in a nonprofit form," said Robert Schaeffer of FairTest,
an organization that advocates balanced standardized exams.
The ACT scores for the high school Class of 2003 were identical in math and
science to the year before - 20.6 and 20.8, respectively, on a 36-point scale.
In the last five years, math and science scores have dropped slightly on the
test, taken by nearly 1.2 million of last spring's high school graduates.
Researchers for the ACT analyzed this year's results and concluded that just 26
percent of test takers were ready to handle college coursework in science and 40
percent in math.
Meanwhile, the SAT math scores were the best since at least 1967: 519 on a scale
with a top score of 800. Since the 1999 exam, math scores are up eight points.
Some educators say the number of students enrolled in remedial math and science
courses at four-year schools supports the ACT's conclusions.
Michael Kirst, a Stanford University education professor, said the ACT's
position is compatible with a study he co-authored earlier this year. It also
found that many freshmen are not prepared for college math and science, despite
gains in achievement scores.
But Andrew Porter, the director of the Learning Sciences Institute at Vanderbilt
University, maintains the SAT scores do, in fact, represent an upward trend in
math and science proficiency.
"To have scores higher than 35 years ago and to be testing a larger and more
diverse student body than was tested 35 years ago is pretty darn impressive -
whether they're ready for college or not," Porter said.
The New York-based College Board, the nonprofit association that administers the
SAT, credited the boost in math scores on that test to increased enrollment in
"rigorous" college preparatory math and science classes.
Porter and other educators noted that the assessments of the SAT and ACT
reflect the differences between the exams and the students who take the tests.
Although most universities are willing to factor either or both tests into the
admissions process, the SAT is generally the primary exam taken by students on
the two coasts, educators noted. It also figures more prominently in the
admissions procedures at elite colleges and universities.
The ACT is popular in the middle of the country, where it is the standard used
by many public institutions.