SAT scores a minor concern


If you haven’t yet heard the news, the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of this year’s high school graduating class are in — and in at least one of the exam’s sections, scores have fallen to the lowest they’ve been since 1972. The decline in scores, needless to say, has drawn a considerable amount of attention and has had many questioning what this means for America’s youth and the quality of education in the country.

To us, this sort of response is somewhat alarmist in nature. To assume, like some have, that the decline in scores is reason for concern for the state of education in the United States is to assume that SAT scores themselves are a near-perfect measure of a student’s aptitude and development — neither of which we’re willing to grant without a more in-depth look at the breakdown of the scores.

Without too much heavy lifting in the way of rigorous analysis, we can immediately point to several reasons for this year’s scores being so low. One reason relates to the testing pool of students. College Board officials and other experts said the number of students who opt to take the SATs is growing both in breadth and diversity each year. For instance, 45 percent of the testing pool last year was comprised of minority students, compared to 38 percent in 2008. This may be significant when one considers that 28 percent of test takers reported that English wasn’t necessarily their first language.

We can also look at the nature of education in America today, and whether it has changed in the years following the test’s institution. The SATs are notoriously a “teaching-to-the-test” form of test-taking, and we can wonder whether instructors in today’s elementary and high schools have simply abandoned the approach of educating for the sake of standardized test-taking, instead opting for educating for the sake of education. Students are particularly aware that doing well on the SAT requires not, necessarily, strict knowledge of the subjects, but rather a keen knowledge and measured skill for test-taking itself. In this way, SAT scores may not be the most appropriate measure of intelligence.

Education in America is undoubtedly a priority of the highest order, but this year’s SAT scores may only prove a minor concern.

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