The College Board held a press conference in Washington, DC on Tuesday to announce the results of the 2004 SAT test scores, and to give an advance peek at the March 2005 SAT which, for the first time, will include a writing section.

I attended the press conference and wanted to share with you some of my observations. A complete set of materials released at the press conference can be found at www.collegeboard.com.

First of all, I was struck by the amount of interest in the College Board’s announcement. A full phalanx of television-news camera lined the back of the room, several radio correspondents were in attendance, including National Public Radio, and the dozen or so print reporters in DC were joined by more than 30 of their ink-stained colleagues who were hooked in by phone, many of them double-tasking while in New York City to cover the Republican National Convention.

This eagerness to learn the SAT results is consistent with what we are finding from you, our membership in College Parents of America.

With college seen as an essential stepping stone to success, and the SAT result a key factor in college admissions and key indicator of college success, it’s no wonder that the media wants to know how high school students are performing on today’s SAT and how the test will soon be changing. Add to the mix the fact that today’s media decision-makers at electronic and print news organizations are themselves likely to be married baby-boomers with children on the road to college, and you have a recipe for a story that will be covered. We also hope that this active dynamic of interest in all things college-related will be part of our recipe for growth in membership and influence of College Parents of America.

As for the numbers portion of Tuesday’s announcement, the average SAT verbal scores rose one point from last year to 508, while average math scores fell one point year-to-year, creating an overall flatness from 2003 to 2004.

For the fourteenth year in a row, the number of students taking the SAT test rose, to an all-time high of 1,419,007.

Two of the fastest-growing groups of SAT takers are Mexican Americans and Other Hispanics. Compared to last year, verbal scores for Mexican American students rose three points and their math scores rose one point, while other Hispanic students gained four points on verbal and one point on math.

The College Board President Gaston Caperton noted at the press conference that, “…the majority of Mexican American and Other Hispanic SAT Takers are the first in their families to go to college,” Materials distributed by The College Board said that an overall 38 percent of SAT takers will be first-generation college students, while those figures among Mexican Americans and Other Hispanics are 69 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

Here is where the storm clouds ahead come in, and where we, the active members of College Parents of America, can play a critical role in the detection of, early warning for and possible action steps to solve the issue of the college preparation gap that seems to be widening across the United States.

A troubling point to me came up in the question-and-answer session when it was pointed out to former West Virginia Governor Caperton that there seemed to be a disconnect between the needs of students who are entering the college-bound pipeline, and the actual courses that they are taking at the high school level. For instance, the number of students reporting that their high school curriculum included English Composition and Grammar components has dropped from 76 and 80 percent, respectively in 1994, to 64 and 67 percent, respectively in 2004.

With a writing component to be added to the SAT beginning in March 2005, it is disturbing to learn that no more than two-thirds of college-bound students in high school are benefiting from English Composition and Grammar as part of their curriculum. As part of the new writing section, students will be asked to write an essay that requires them to take a position on an issue, and to use reasoning and examples to support their position.

In addition, the new writing section the SAT will include a 35-minute battery of multiple-choice questions, which will measure a student’s ability to identify sentence errors, improve sentences, and improve paragraphs.

Collectively, this writing section of the SAT will account for one-third of the test-taker’s total score, with 2400 becoming the new “perfect total score.” Writing will account for one hour of what will be a three hour and twenty minute exam (as compared to the current two-and-half hour test.)

The bottom line for millions of up and coming college aspirants, beginning in March 2005, is that a 60-minute writing clock will be ticking that might hold the key to their college acceptance. But another way to look at it is that this writing test may, in fact, be the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the student’s upcoming college experience. According to the College Board, the essay will be similar to the type of writing required on in-class college essay exams.

All future college parents should insist to their local school boards and officials that English Composition and Grammar not be an option when it comes to the curriculum of college-bound students. The ability to write is essential to success – on the SAT, in college and in the real world. The sooner students learn to write the better off they will be.

Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend.

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