September 15, 2011
Data released yesterday by the College Board indicated that SAT scores for the graduating class of 2011 dropped in all three subject areas--reading, writing and math.
The report on the college entrance exam showed that the average reading and writing scores were the lowest ever recorded: Out of a possible score of 800 for each section, the average reading score was 497, while the writing score dropped to 489. The average math score for the class of 2011 was 514, down one point from the year before.
The College Board reported that a total of about 1.65 million students from the graduating class of 2011 took the exam, but only 43 percent of students scored at least a 1550 out of 2400--the benchmark that indicates they are ready to succeed in college.
"At the precise time the importance of a college degree is increasing, the ability of the U.S. to compete in a global economy is decreasing," noted Jim Montoya, vice president of the College Board, who was quoted by The Wall Street Journal. "We, as a nation, have to do a better job preparing our kids for college."
College Board officials explained that the lower scores likely reflect the increased representation of students from various economic, ethnic and academic backgrounds. This year, 44 percent of students who took the exam were minority students, 36 percent were the first in their families to attend college and 27 percent did not speak English exclusively.
"We've made great strides in the past five or 10 years in increasing access," said Wayne Camara, vice president of research and development for the College Board, who was quoted by the Los Angeles Times. "As we reach more students who have less resources, scores will tend to drop."
The College Board's press release also noted that there were "more high-performing students among the class of 2011 than ever before."
Not everyone accepted the College Board's explanation, however. "Who's kidding who?" wrote Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post. "If there are more high-performing students, there must be more low-performing students, too, to bring down the average."
Strauss cited figures quoted by Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a group which opposes standardized tests such as the SAT: From 2002 to 2003, the number of students who took the SAT increased by 5 percent--much larger than the 3 percent increase from 2010 to 2011. But at the time, average test scores for verbal and math increased by six points. (The writing section didn't exist at the time.) Furthermore, the critical reading scores in 1972 were 530, while today they are down to 514. If the College Board's explanation of falling scores is correct, wrote Strauss, then these things should not have happened.
"How many wake-up calls do policy makers need before they admit that their test-and-punish strategy is a failure?" said Schaeffer, who was quoted by The New York Times.
Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman
"Average Scores Slip on SAT," nytimes.com, September 15, 2011, Tamar Lewin
"SAT Reading, Writing Scores Hit Low," online.wsj.com, September 15, 2011, Stephanie Banchero
"SAT Scores for Class of 2011 Decline in Every Aspect," latimes.com, September 15, 2011, Carla Rivera
"What the Decline in SAT Scores Really Means," washingtonpost.com, September 14, 2011, Valerie Strauss