SAT Down and Cried Today

by Robert Pondiscio
August 26th, 2009

The Class of 2009, who were in 5th grade when No Child Left Behind became the law of the land, and were not yet born when A Nation at Risk ushered in the era of education reform, have posted SAT scores that summon to mind a flatlined EKG.  Math unchanged at 515.  Writing down a point to 493.  Critical reading, down a point to 494.  The results are of a piece with last week’s ACT scores, which showed only one of four high school graduates are prepared to do C level college work in English, math, reading and science.

“Completing a core curriculum remains strongly related to SAT scores,” the College Board notes in a news release.  ”Students in the class of 2009 who took core curricula scored an average of 46 points higher on the critical reading section, 44 points higher on the mathematics section, and 45 points higher on the writing section than those who did not.”

“The College Board, as always, hung a smiley face on it, but the latest SAT results are a real bummer,” writes Checker Finn at Fordham’s Flypaper blog.  Looking at years of stagnant NAEP results, last week’s dispiriting ACT scores and flat high school graduation rates, Finn says “please sing out if you’ve spotted any good news regarding the readiness of American adolescents to face successfully the challenges of higher education, the workforce, adulthood and citizenship. I can’t find it.”

Let me add a few verses to Checker’s refrain:  Please sing out if you see elementary schools creating a path to college readiness by favoring a rich, robust curriculum over of the deadening pabulum of test prep and ineffective reading strategies.  Please sing out too, if you can explain how changing the operative definition of well educated to “reads on or near grade level” has done anything other than cement in place this march of mediocrity.  

There’s no guarantee that a patient buildup of knowledge and language proficiency that pays dividends over time will show up in a single year’s standardized testing snapshot, so please explain too how any school or teacher can afford  to take the necessary long view, when we have essentially declared that a little bit of success every year is more important–and measurable–than great success over time. 

Please sing out if you see something–anything–that is going to change this dispiriting trend in the foreseeable future.  I can’t find it.


  1. I can’t find it either,on any sizeable scale. I posted the following on a related website. I recently bought all of the Rosemary Sutcliff books I didn’t already own, from Barnes and Noble’s online used book dealers, since they are mostly out of print. I was incredibly disappointed to find that most of the (20+) books were library culls. I can’t imagine that they were replaced by anything close to their quality of content, language and characterization. They are mostly historical novels with young male protagonists (hard to find), many set in Roman Britain, and all of my kids loved them. I didn’t discover them until adulthood, but they are so well-written that I can read and enjoy them. Sadly, I haven’t encountered either teachers or librarians who are familiar with the author or books, even if the books are in their library, so no one recommends them to kids. Sigh…

    BTW, my kids started reading them on their own somewhere around 5th grade, since I had been feeding them good fiction and non-fiction since kindergarten and they learned to read with phonics. For kids exposed only to whole language and drivel, they could easily be challenging in high school. It would be harder to appreciate them if you’ve never heard of either the Romans or Britain. Again, sigh… One bright spot: this summer I read the one (picture) book she wrote for young children, The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup, to my almost-3-year-old grandson. He was spellbound and clearly understood most of it, so it could clearly be read to early ES kids.

    Comment by mom — August 26, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  2. I think it has been proven beyond doubt that money is not the problem. More and more has been given, with no results beyond bloated admin, waste, fraud and abuse. Some of the worst systems in the country have the highest per-pupil cost.

    Comment by mom — August 26, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

  3. I am afraid I can no longer sing. I work with the products of our system of education. I have heard that some of my nursing home residents have to be taken care of by people who have adequately demonstrated that they cannot take care of themselves. I have to praise these unfortunate people for just showing up to work only approximately on time. They expect to be praised for doing their job without mistakes. What kind of praise is left to my imagination I suppose. A paycheck is not praise enough for these products of twelve years of free education.
    I can’t sing out because my heart is slowly being broken day by day, all that promise being wasted.
    I can’t cry, because there are no more tears to shed. Most of the residents of the nursing homes of today are from “the greatest generation”. The last all out war to save humanity from another century of a dark age was fought and won by these people who now have to rely on others to help them in their final years on earth. I work very hard for them, in part in silent thanks for what little freedom I have left. I know they deserve much more than I can give them. But to have to work with people who do not have the curiosity of wet gravel, to have to cajole them in to staying for their shift, to teach them how to be polite to their residents, things I would have thought were early lessons that would be second nature by the time they are trusted with another person’s safety and well being. That is not always the case. And I am supposed to be supportive of my local schools, tax levies come up for a vote now and then, new taxes for the same old schools. If I vote to not support the schools am I making the situation worse, If I vote to support the schools am I making my future worse?

    Comment by garrettp — August 27, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

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