Madison students taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scored significantly above their state and local peers, continuing a trend of more than a decade.
Madison students’ composite score was 1251, well above Wisconsin students’ composite score of 1188 and the national composite of 1021. (See tables below for details.) The composite score combines a student’s math and verbal scores on the test. Each section of the test is worth 800 points.
For the first time, the SAT was expanded to include a writing test, however, several Madison seniors took the SAT prior to the change, so the writing sample is not included in the composite totals. But the 370 Madison students who did take the writing test had a mean score of 599, compared with 577 for state students and 497 nationally.
The participation rate by Madison seniors was 22.6%, down from 24% last year. Only 402 students took the SAT test. Most Madison students take the ACT college entrance exam, with 70% of Madison seniors taking the ACT in 2005-2006.
SAT Score Comparison by Year:COMPOSITE Year Madison Wisconsin US 2005-06 1251 1188 1021 2004-05 1266 1191 1028 2003-04 1250 1183 1027 2002-03 1241 1179 1026 2001-02 1242 1182 1020 2000-01 1229 1180 1020 1999-00 1257 1181 1019 1998-99 1248 1179 1016 1997-98 1254 1175 1017 1996-97 1247 1169 1016 1995-96 1229 1163 1013VERBAL Year Madison Wisconsin US 2005-06 617 588 503 2004-05 624 592 508 2003-04 615 587 508 2002-03 606 585 507 2001-02 606 583 504 2000-01 603 584 506 1999-00 618 584 505 1998-99 609 584 505 1997-98 614 581 505 1996-97 616 579 505 1995-96 608 577 505MATH Year Madison Wisconsin US 2005-06 634 600 518 2004-05 642 599 520 2003-04 635 596 518 2002-03 635 594 519 2001-02 636 599 516 2000-01 626 596 514 1999-00 639 597 514 1998-99 639 595 511 1997-98 640 594 512 1996-97 631 590 511 1995-96 621 586 508
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At a press conference in Washington, College Board officials blamed the drop in scores not on increased test difficulty, but on fewer students taking it more than once. They emphasized, however, their concern that SAT reading scores have been virtually unchanged in the past 30 years and that students are reporting a decline in the amount of composition and grammar lessons they are getting in their English courses.
The officials rejected the view of many students, counselors and SAT preparatory course teachers that the score drop was the result of fatigue from the longer test. The new SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes and can take more than four hours, counting breaks.
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Whatever the reason for the drop, it hit a sour note just as students nationwide are launching or are about to launch a new school year.
The combined drop in reading and math scores on the nation’s most widely used college entrance exam was 7 points, from 1028 out of a possible 1600 last year to 1021 this year.
Officials of the College Board in the past have said increases of similar size were significant good news. This time, they said little should be read into the downturn.
The decline contrasted with the largest one-year increase in 20 years nationwide in scores on the ACT, the other major college entrance test. ACT officials said this month that the average rose from 20.9 a year ago to 21.1 this year, on a scale of 1 to 36.
In some ways, Wisconsin didn’t play much of a role in either the SAT or ACT trends – and that was good news because of how well Wisconsin students do on each of the tests, officials said.
Instead, the officials attributed the drop to a decline in the number of students who took the exam more than once. The board said 47 percent of this year’s students took the test only once, up from 44 percent last year. The number taking the test three times fell to less than 13 percent from nearly 15 percent.
Students typically gain 14 points a section when they take the test a second time, and another 10 or 11 points a section on the third try.
The SAT writing test includes a 25-minute essay, which counts for about 30 percent of the writing score, and 49 multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage, which count for the rest. The average score on the writing section was 497 out of a possible 800, the board said.
Also gaining attention is the impact of the new writing section on average male-female SAT score differences. Historically, men have had higher average scores than women, not just on the SAT overall but also on both its verbal and math subsections–a departure from other assessments where men tend to do better than women on math (with a few caveats), but women tend to do better on verbal skills. But women did do better than men, on average, on the new writing section, lowering the the male-female score gap from 42 points in 2005 to 26 points this year. In addition to the writing section, the new critical reading section, which eliminated the infamous verbal analogies, probably also made the test more female-friendly, since verbal analogies are one of the few areas of verbal skills in which men typically outperform women, and the difference between men’s critical reading scores this year and their verbal skills last year is larger than that for women.