Same SAT, Different Day

by Robert Pondiscio
September 15th, 2011

Still blaming poor SAT scores on test-takers?

SAT reading scores for 2011 high schools grads fell to their lowest point in history. The College Board attributes the decline “to the increasing diversity of the students taking the test,” notes the New York Times. But that argument was effectively dismissed by E. D. Hirsch when scores were announced last year.

“The standard explanation is that our test scores have declined chiefly because of a demographic broadening of the test-taking base. This claim ignores compelling contrary evidence. During the period of the big drop, from 1965 to 1980, verbal scores in the state of Iowa – 98 percent white and middle class – dropped with similar sharpness.

What changed, Hirsch noted, had less to do with the demographics of the test-takers “than the anti-intellectual ideas that fully took over first teacher-training schools and then the teachers and administrators they trained. The result was a retreat from a knowledge-based elementary curriculum — as researchers have shown by analyzing the severe watering down of American school books in the period 1950-to the present. The decline of the elementary curriculum coincided with our sharp decline in verbal ability and test scores.”

A sloppy workman blames his tools.   Or in this case, test-takers.

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.

The Best and the Brightestest

by Robert Pondiscio
December 8th, 2008

It is a generational right, and probably a compulsion, to look at the generation in the rear view mirror and pronounce them unfit to lead.  Hence books like Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, and Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason.  But look at the data, and you’ll see something surprising.  The short of the stick in the brains department is being held, not by today’s 20-somethings and teens, but by those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s.  “Compared with every other birth cohort,” writes author Neil Howe in the Washington Post, “they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they’re the dumbest.”

Want proof? Let’s start with the long-term results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is housed within the U.S. Department of Education. Considered the gold standard in assessing K-12 students, the NAEP has been in continuous operation for decades. Here’s the bottom line: On both the reading and the math tests, and at all three tested ages (9, 13 and 17), the lowest-ever scores in the history of the NAEP were recorded by children born between 1961 and 1965.

Same story, different test:  “The SAT reached its all-time high in 1963, when it tested the 1946 birth cohort,” says Howe.  “Then it fell steeply for 17 straight years, hitting its all-time low in 1980, when it tested the 1963 cohort.  Ever since, the SAT has been gradually if haltingly on the rise, paralleling improvements in the NAEP.”