ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Here's the headline from this year's SAT scores: Math scores are at an all-time high; verbal scores are flat for the fourth year in a row. This may not be big news, but as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, there are a few trends worth watching.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:

This year's SAT math scores were, on average, 520 out of a possible 800. Verbal scores were 508. As for the 14-point increase in SAT math scores over the last 10 years, some say it's miniscule when you average it out. Others say it's significant when you consider that all groups--male, female, racial and ethnic minorities--are doing better in math, even low-income students.

Mr. JAMES MONTOYA (The College Board): I'm pleased to see that 23 percent come from families where the income is 30,000 or less.

SANCHEZ: James Montoya oversees college admissions assessment for The College Board, sponsor of the SAT. He says low- and middle-income students now outnumber wealthy students. That's a remarkable shift, says Montoya. The flip side is that the gap between rich and poor, black and white students persists. That gap has, in fact, widened in the last decade, with whites outscoring blacks this year by 99 points in the verbal section, 105 points in math.

Mr. MONTOYA: What this suggests is that we need to be working to close these gaps, making certain that minority students are encouraged to be in Advanced Placement courses.

SANCHEZ: The fact is that poor, black and minority students are still less likely than white students to have access to advanced rigorous academic courses in high school. In other words, the gap is in part the result of the unequal distribution of money and quality teachers. Later during the news conference Montoya said the gap is a problem that politicians must tackle.

Mr. MONTOYA: One of our highest priorities is to encourage school districts, states, federal government to encourage all students to be enrolled in the more rigorous courses.

SANCHEZ: If they don't, Montoya said, the gaps will persist. And that's worrisome because racial and ethnic minorities today make up nearly 40 percent of the 1.5 million students who take the SAT, the most in the test's 80-year history.

As in previous years, suburban students scored higher than urban and rural students. Students from wealthy homes with college-educated parents had the higher scores, with one exception: Asian-Americans. Regardless of income or parents' education, they are far more likely to take advanced math courses like pre-calculus, calculus and physics than any other ethnic or racial group.

Among states where more than half of high school graduates took the SAT, Washington, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont had the highest overall average scores. Georgia and South Carolina tied for the lowest scores.

Results from the SAT's new 800-point writing section, meanwhile, were a little harder to figure out. The average score was 516; no way to know if that's good or bad or terrible because it's the first time students took it. What we do know is that in the last 10 years there's been a sizeable drop in the percentage of high school students enrolled in English composition. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News, Washington.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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