SAT Scores of High School Seniors

This section explores the performance of California's high school seniors on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The SAT provides colleges a common measure of student aptitude for college-that is, the test is designed to forecast student success in higher education.

As with the NAEP, a number of factors influence student SAT scores. For example, the percentage of students in each state who take the test varies significantly. As the percentage of the senior class taking the test increases, SAT scores usually decline somewhat as more lower-performing students choose to take the test.

SAT tests have been accused of being biased-that questions assume certain cultural information that not all students possess. The tests have been changed over the years in response to this concern. In the absence of other data sources, we believe that scores still provide important information about the capabilities of college bound students.

As the next three figures indicate, California seniors do relatively well on the SAT. The overall scores. however, mask quite different student performance when scores are examined along racial or ethnic fines.

Unfortunately, the data do not Permit investigation into factors other than race and ethnicity, such as poverty.

fig 14

Figure 14

  • California's average SAT score was virtually the same as the national average in 1990. Its average score exceeded three of the four comparison states.
  • California's score was higher than the scores of the two states with similar percentages of students tested-Florida (15 points) and Texas (23 points).
  • New York's average score is impressive, considering that half-again as many seniors took the SAT as in California.

fig 15

Figure 15

  • This figure (fig. 15) displays 1990 mathematics and verbal SAT scores for California and the nation.
  • California students score about eight points higher on the mathematics portion of the test and about eight points lower on the verbal part.
  • Lower verbal scores may be due at least in part to the higher percentage of students in California who speak a language other than English at home.

fig 16

Figure 16

  • This figure (fig. 16) displays 1990 average SAT scores for California and the nation by race and ethnicity.
  • Asian-American and Hispanic students in California score below the national average for those groups. Whites and African-Americans in California score above the national average.
  • These disparities suggest that schools-in California and nationally-have not adequately addressed educational issues raised by cultural and linguistic diversity.
Content Contact:
Candy Friedly
Office Manager
Institute for Education Reform
California State University, Sacramento
6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6018
tel 916.278.4600
fax 916.278.5014
Technical Contact:

Last Updated: February, 1994

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