Following is a statement by Commissioner of Education Robert V. Antonucci on the release of Massachusetts SAT results for 1996:
"There is good news on three fronts about Massachusetts high school students in this year's report on SAT scores. The good news stories are the increase in overall verbal and mathematics scores, participation, and writing achievement.
At the same time, we cannot stand still and feel that we have done enough. We need to continue to work towards higher levels of achievement. Next year, as Education Reform concludes its fourth year in Massachusetts, I expect to see higher scores as we ask more from all of our students and teachers, and as we strengthen curriculum, increase time for academics, and increase expectations for learning and for teaching.
Also, we should recognize that the SAT score, while it is widely noted and tracked, is just one indicator of student achievement among many others. Student achievement over time in academic subjects graded at the school level, student test scores on state assessments, the rigor of courseloads, AP tests taken, and other measures are also important to evaluate on a student by student, school by school, and state by state basis.
As for the 1996 scores, first, our students' scores are up again, as they were last year. The 1996 results show a two point increase in mathematics and a two point increase in verbal scores. Likewise, in 1995, our students' scores were up two points in mathematics and four points in verbal.
The 1996 mathematics score in Massachusetts is at a ten year high and the verbal score is at a seven year high.
Second, Massachusetts leads the nation in the percent of our high school graduates who take the SAT-I test, which is the test most widely known. Eighty percent of our graduates took the SAT in 1996. Only Connecticut, at 79%, comes close. Our participation rate is nearly double the national average of 41%, and far above our neighbors (New York 73%, New Hampshire 70%, Vermont 70%, Rhode Island 69%, Maine 68). Only 18 states and the District of Columbia had participation rates in excess of 50%.
The reason the participation rate is important, and why we should cheer the fact that Massachusetts is number one in the country, is that the SAT is a test which not only measures student achievement but also reflects the expectations parents, teachers and students hold. The fact that so many Massachusetts students are choosing to take it, or are being encouraged by their parents or teachers to take it, means that expectations are high for Massachusetts high school graduates. The fact that our percentage participation has been steadily increasing (64% in 1986; 79% in 1991) shows that expectations are rising for Massachusetts students. Higher expectations and higher standards are exactly what the Education Reform Act of 1993 demands.
In light of our nationally-leading participation rate, the fact that our scores are higher than the national average on verbal ability and just below the national average on mathematics is remarkable. Where just a small percentage of students take the SAT in certain states, those students are the cream of the crop. Here in Massachusetts, a broad cross-section of our students take the test, so our average score should by any measure be far lower.
Third, in addition to the commonly known SAT-I test, there are SAT-II tests measuring achievement in individual academic subjects such as writing and
more advanced mathematics. According to the College Board, "the SAT-II test in Writing measures the ability to express ideas effectively in standard written English, to recognize faults in usage and structure, and to use language with sensitivity to meaning… It measures skills developed over many years." In 1996, 30 percent of our high school students took at least one SAT-II subject matter test, more than three times the national percentage (9 percent). Again, since a far greater proportion of students in Massachusetts takes these tests than their peers around the country, our average score should be lower than elsewhere where only the top students take these subject matter tests. In fact, as the College Board has stated in this year's report (1996 College-Bound Seniors' Narrative for Massachusetts), "the great disparity in rate of participation at the national and state levels puts the state at a considerable disadvantage in these comparisons. Given the above, the Massachusetts averageof 568 for SAT-II: Writing is surprisingly high when compared to the national average of 566."
Also, the trend is moving strongly in the right direction in two key subject matter SAT-II test areas, writing and mathematics. In writing, our score is two points ahead of the nation now, while last year it was one point behind. In mathematics, in 1987 our students' scores were 22 points behind the national average, and this year the gap is just seven points."