Latest Test Scores Show Value of Tough Curriculum

Published October 1, 2002

Good news on student performance: This year, 41 percent of high school students who took the SAT test had an A grade point average, compared to only 31 percent 10 years ago.

Bad news on grade inflation: This year’s students with an A grade point average scored only 565 on the Verbal SAT test, compared to 575 scored by A students 10 years ago. (See Figure 1.)

Although taking challenging courses in high school may lower a student’s grade point average, the experience is likely to lift test scores. The College Board reports SAT scores are higher for this year’s first-generation college students who took such challenging high school courses as precalculus, calculus, and physics. In some cases, taking tough courses lifted scores by more than 100 points.

The other college testing service—the ACT Assessment—also provides a breakout of ACT scores for high school seniors who take a core curriculum versus those who don’t. This year’s high school seniors who took at least the core curriculum earned an average composite score of 21.8 on the ACT Assessment, compared to an average score of 19.2 for those who took less than the core curriculum. (See Figure 2.)

“This year’s results point out the importance of taking rigorous, college-preparatory coursework in high school,” said ACT CEO Richard L. Ferguson. “Students who do otherwise will find themselves academically under-prepared when they arrive at college.”

ACT defines the core college-preparatory curriculum as four or more years of English and three or more years each of social science, natural sciences, and math—algebra and above.