August 26, 1997

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Ward announced today that for the 38,468 college-bound seniors taking the SAT in 1997, higher scores were related to the number of higher-level courses taken.

North Carolina students, overall, improved their scores by two points on the math portion of the test reaching an average score of 488. Verbal scores stayed the same, at 490, on average. Fifty-nine percent of North Carolina high school seniors took the SAT. Nationally, only 15 states posted a participation rate that high.

Nationally, math scores went up by three points to an average score of 511. Verbal scores, on average, stayed at 505. The highest score possible is 1,600 for verbal and math combined.

The difference between the national average score and North Carolina's average score is the smallest that it has been since 1972.

The SAT measures a student's reasoning, verbal and math skills against the skills needed to be successful in freshman level college coursework. The primary use for SAT scores is as a tool for admission's officials at colleges and universities. The College Board discourages the comparison of states on the basis of SAT scores alone and considers it invalid.

The results released today showed that for North Carolina students who took more than the minimum number of courses required for graduation in each subject area, the payoff was in higher SAT scores and a stronger knowledge base.

For example, North Carolina students who had taken four years of high school-level mathematics earned an average score of 1,003, several points higher overall than the average score for all students and 81 points higher than the average score for students who took only three years of mathematics. Students are only required to take three years of mathematics for high school graduation. Coursework in geometry, trigonometry and calculus boosted scores significantly. North Carolina students who took calculus, for example, scored an average combined score of 1,156, a score that is higher than the state and national averages.

This relationship of coursework to performance held up in other subject areas also.

"The SAT is an important measure for individual students," Supt. Ward said. "It can open important doors for them to continue their education. It is encouraging that North Carolina continues each year to gain points on the SAT. I hope that these increases will help more of our students pursue their educational goals."

The ABCs of Public Education, North Carolina's major education reform effort, begins this fall in high schools. It also places a strong emphasis on reading, writing and mathematics in the elementary and middle school grades. This emphasis, Supt. Ward said, will pay off for students as they enter high school and prepare for college.

Supt. Ward said that details of the SAT report showed the importance of good study habits, of taking advanced courses and of taking a balanced, rigorous selection of courses.

"The message to students and their families is that preparation for college and for the SAT needs to begin early, even before high school enrollment. The more courses students take in every subject and the more rigorous the quality of those courses, the more prepared students will be for college admission and for college success," Supt. Ward said.

The fact that more North Carolina students are taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses is one indicator that this message is being heard. AP courses are rigorous, college-level courses which students take in high school. Students can earn college credit for these courses through the national AP exams. A total of 16,436 students took at least one AP exam in North Carolina last year, a 3.3 percent increase from 1996. Of the 26,148 AP exams taken by these students, the students earned college credit for 15,647 of the exams. This is a 13 percent improvement from 1996 performance.

Supt. Ward also noted that more efforts need to be targeted toward minority students whose scores continue to trail the scores of white students. Participation rates for minority students have improved over time, but more needs to be done to help prepare these students to do well on this test, Ward said.

Other highlights of the 1997 SAT report:

  • Young women make up the majority of SAT test-takers in North Carolina, comprising 55.5 percent of the test-takers.
  • Most minority students' scores have improved over the past five years, with American Indian students gaining 16 points overall for a combined score of 900. Asian students increased their score by nine points overall to 1,023. Black students gained one point to a total score of 834. Hispanic students had a one-point decrease to 956. (White students' scores went up 15 points to 1,023.)
  • A gap continues in scores for males and females. Males posted an average verbal score of 491, two points higher than females' average score. In math, males had an average score of 505, 31 points higher than the females' average.