SAT scores for the high school class of 2004 were mostly the same as a year ago, though scores for some minority groups showed an encouraging increase.

The average cumulative score on the country’s most widely taken college entrance exam was 1026, the same as for the class of 2003. Scores on the verbal section rose one point to 508 while math scores fell one point to 518.

Maine and Rhode Island were the only New England states with combined scores below the national average of 1,026.

Maine, which had a participation rate of 76 percent, finished ahead of Rhode Island with an average score of 505 on the verbal and 501 on the math portions. New Hampshire and Massachusetts were tops in the region.

The stagnant scores nationally were something of a disappointment following a six-point jump last year from 2002 that produced a 36-year high. But The College Board, which owns the test and was releasing the scores Tuesday, said it was good news that more students are taking the test and signaling they hope to attend college, even if that may have weighed down average results.

There was also some consolation in improved scores for some minorities, who comprised a record 37 percent of the 1.4 million test-takers, also a record.

Students identifying themselves as Mexican American boosted their scores nine points to 909. Scores from those identifying themselves as Puerto Ricans were flat at 909, but students in the “other Hispanic” category increased their scores five points to 926.

Amy Schmidt, executive director of higher education research at The College Board, said it’s too early to tell whether the minority groups’ gains represent a long-term trend. But she said they are significant, given the expanded test-taking pool. For instance, while Mexican American cumulative scores are the same as a decade ago, the number of test-takers has risen by nearly two-thirds.

“The scores are almost immaterial,” she said. “The sheer numbers across the board of minorities are growing because these kids are aspiring to go to college.”

Scores for Asians rose one point to 1084, while scores for American Indians rose nine points to 971. Cumulative scores for students identifying themselves as black were flat at 857, while scores for whites fell four points to 1061. Nineteen percent of students did not respond to the question about their racial/ethnic identity.

Males scored 512 on the verbal section and 537 on math, identical to a year ago. Scores for females rose one point on verbal to 504 and fell two points on math to 501.

The math and verbal sections of the SAT are each graded on a 200-800 point scale, though next spring the test expands to three sections – math, writing and critical reading – which will make 2400 a perfect score instead of 1600. Members of the class of 2005 can take the old test one last time in the fall.

Despite changes in content, The College Board says scores on the new critical reading and math sections will be comparable to scores on the current verbal and math sections. The writing section will include a timed essay.

SAT scores play a role in the admissions process at about 80 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities without open admissions policies. However, most selective colleges also accept results from the ACT exam, which earlier this month reported a slight increase in cumulative scores for its class of 04.

AP-ES-08-31-04 0936EDT

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