Friday, September 4, 2015


As surely as students head off to school with shiny new trapper-keepers in hand, we must have the annual handwringing over dropping SAT scores.

Some outlets went with a bare, facts-only approach, while many went with some scary use of the "lowest point in decade" headline, a proven winner that has been winning clicks for years.

Is this exciting? Should we panic? Does it prove anything about anything?

Eliza Gray correctly notes that one way for the average score to go down is to have more and more non-wealthy students (who generally do more poorly on standardized tests) take the test. The old pattern was the panic headline would be followed by broken-out-by-group analysis that, for decades, has been pointing out that while the overall average is headed down, the averages for subgroups are headed up. But more low-scoring subgroups taking the test drag the average down. This is not nothing-- it demands a look at why some sub-groups always score low. But that's a different problem from "OMGZ!! THe Kidz is getting dumberer!!"

Unfortunately, it looks like sub-group growth reversed over the past few years (though again-- overall drop, or more low-scoring students taking the test). It is worth noting that by now, the awesomeness of Common Core and other reformster programs should be reaping rewards in heightened SAT scores, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I can think of a zillion reasons for that non-result. Pick your favorite.

But keep in mind that the upcoming SAT will be super-duper Common Core attuned. This is truly one of the most awesomely audacious scams in the history of ever. David Coleman rewrites the nation's standards (and curriculum) to fit what he thinks an educated person should be, and then he goes to head up the College Board and rewrite the SAT so that his test measures how great his standards are. There is no question that Coleman has the most massive brass cojones in the world.

Here's how Gray puts it {with corrections]

In an effort to make the test more reflective of what [David Coleman said] students [should] do in high school—and therefore make preparing for standardized tests [from David Coleman's company] a more productive exercise in getting ready for college—the SAT is launching a [Coleman-directed] redesigned test in March...

But we really need to remember that the College Board is not, as Gray sadly suggests by her treatment of them, some sort of impartial arbiter of college readiness. They are a company with products to sell-- products that are grouped around the issue of college readiness. More specifically, they are a company concerned about growing their revenue stream and market share.

The Connecticut Post did one of the better jobs covering the annual story-like event, including talking to Bob Schaeffer of FairTest. Here's a fun juxtaposition:

While Schaeffer points to the growing number of colleges that have have dropped ACT/SAT requirements, Coleman points to the growing number of states giving the SAT to all high students.

In other words, "Neener, neener, we found a way to work around that problem with our product sales." The College Board has done an outstanding job of getting government to serve as a College Board marketing department. Some states (such as mine) now count AP course offerings toward school ratings. Others have been convinced to buy the SAT test product for every student. There is no real reason to believe that any of these things actually improve education, but they sure do wonders for the College Board revenue stream. It's like Ford convincing the feds to require all teachers to drive a Taurus to work.

So, there are many questions raised by this annual exercise in chicken-littling. Are SAT scores truly dropping? What is causing this drop, if it's actually happening? If this year's scores are so meaningful, why are students taking a different SAT next year?

But I would propose a different question: Why should anyone (who isn't financially invested in the College Board) care?

Sure, you care about how your own child did (though maybe you really shouldn't worry all that much). But do the big picture figures tell us anything about anything that we need to care about? That, unfortunately, will not take up much of the frantic score coverage.

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