WARNING: Because different percentages and types of students take the SAT in each state, it is not possible to reliably compare scores. And policy makers should not base high-stakes decisions on such a comparison.
With that warning out of the way, here’s the scoop: SAT scores for last spring’s graduating class are out, and they are the lowest they have ever been. But that might be a good thing, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
First, the upside of the SAT Report released yesterday is that students in Kansas and Missouri scored slightly higher than the national average.
However, the downside of this report is that average scores increased in Kansas by only a few percentage points and have declined in Missouri, and nationwide SAT scores are the lowest they have ever been.
So how could this possibly be a good thing?
Critics of standardized tests such as the SAT say results are actually indicators of household income and parental-education level rather than valid assessments of student achievement. And statistics released in this year’s SAT Report tend to confirm that criticism (although the College Board, which develops and administers the SAT claims it is “a valid predictor of college success”). Although less than half of those high school students who took the test were deemed ready for higher education, the College Board’s own statistics show most students who were deemed college-ready came from households with high incomes and with parents who had at least bachelor’s degrees.
In other words, students who come from disadvantaged homes and who aspire to be the first in their families to graduate from college do not tend to do well on this test. And the number of these students taking the SAT has been steadily increasing while scores have been declining.
So — to return to the question I asked earlier — how is this a good thing? One of the goals of education reformers nationwide and in the Kansas City metropolitan area has been to increase the number of students who are ready for college and careers. Which means that incentives such as test-fee waivers and opportunities to take the SAT during school hours (rather than on weekends) are being offered to increase participation by minority and disadvantaged students. The goal is to get them into college. And that’s the good thing I was referring to.
The next question, of course, is whether these first-generation students are actually prepared to succeed in higher education after being admitted to colleges and universities. But that’s another story for another day.
UPDATE 9/25/2012: This report has been corrected to show that average SAT scores in Kansas increased slightly.
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