Poor Strategies Continue to Plague Black Test-Takers

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Officials from the College Board announced last month that this year's national average SAT math score is at a 30-year high, but African American test-takers still came in with the lowest average among ethnic groups for the test's math section.

Although math scores for all ethnic groups have increased since 1990, African American students scored an average 426 out of a possible 800.

African American test-takers on average scored 434 -- also out of a possible 800 -- on the verbal portion of the SAT, up from 428 in 1990. However, their scores were again the lowest.

"The biggest challenge in higher education is closing the achievement gap," says Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. Caperton says the widening gap has nothing to do with students' potential, and that College Board officials have committed to getting more Advanced Placement courses in high schools.

More students than ever before are taking four or more years of math and science, which helps explain the overall increase in math scores, say College Board officials. They note that the three-point gain brings the average math score up to 514.

"Over the last decade, male and female students from all ethnic backgrounds have been taking more pre-calculus, calculus and physics," Caperton says. "These are some of the most rigorous courses available, and help students develop excellent math skills. The SAT math scores of students who take these courses are well above the national average."

The average national SAT verbal score has remained stable at 505 for the fifth consecutive year. Caperton says this is partly due to the changing demographics -- the growing number of foreign-born students taking the test as well as native students for whom English is a second language. Since 1987, when the College Board began tracking such data, the number of foreign-born and first-generation American test-takers has increased by 47 percent -- nearly three times the growth rate of the entire SAT test-taking population. In addition, Caperton says, children are not reading as much as they used to.

The downfall, College Board officials say, is that schools are not equal in rigor or in opportunities. Therefore, some students are not able to take advantage of opportunities that would otherwise better prepare them for testing. …