The SATs

Comments on Shannon’s post reminded me of a news report I’d heard this morning.

The College Board is trying to put a pretty face on it, but the fact remains: “For the class of 2006, overall combined scores for mathematics and critical reading dropped by seven points from last year,” although they finish the sentence with “which represents less than 1 percentage point.” If you want to see the scores over a long period (which doesn’t make us boomers look all that bad), look at Table 2. Various other tables give other data, including a graph that shows the improvement in math scores over the last decade – though certainly not back to 1967 levels – as well as those in critical thinking.

SAT scores don’t tell us much or even the most important things: as Newman says, “Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another; good sense is not conscience, refinement is not humility, nor is largeness and justness of view faith.” SAT scores don’t even predict maturity or perseverence, both far more important in scholarship. Some of the brightest minds I’ve been around have dispersed much of their energy because so much interested them and so little engaged them. But, generally, they were entertaining – because tests like the SAT do register the amount of spare data & ability to connect dots rattling about in their heads.

Most of us have found that these scores reflect something important about a student’s preparation. And the steady downward trend isn’t a ringing endorsement of the various educational fads dominating post-1967 teaching. Some complain the tests test test-taking – well, maybe. If they do, however, they are testing skills of logic & common sense, an ability to approach problems when that answers don’t readily come to mind & develop a sharpened ability to consider & reject possibilities. That is not a bad skill, either, though it demands a logical mode of thinking that hasn’t always been encouraged in educational thinking.

4 thoughts on “The SATs”

  1. There is less here than meets the eye. This past years test was a different test than previous years. The test included a writing section with an essay. The reading section was revised to eliminate analogies. They added harder math questions. And they lengthened the whole affair to an exhausting 3.5 hrs.

    It was a harder test. Students did not do as well. So What?

    P.S. I am not defending the current high school system. It has real problems, but standardized test performance is, by far, not the biggest one.

  2. Dropping analogies makes the Verbal section easier (and less of a measure of logical thought), the essay section is not included in the relative scores mentioned here, and “harder” math problems were still well below calculus level (and were only meant to separate the scores on the highest 1 – 2 % of the Math scale, not the great middle that determines the mean score), so Ginny’s point stands: as measured on the objective V and M sections (as opposed to the subjective essay – isn’t that what the AP Enlish exam is for?), scores are declining.

  3. “If you want to see the scores over a long period (which doesn’t make us boomers look all that bad), look at Table 2.”

    Uh, scores went down after bthe boomers took over the teaching duties. Looks bad to me.

  4. I would think that knowing the total number of test takers would be important to putting any weight to this data. My own theory is that the sudden drop from the late 1960’s to late 1970’s has more to do with the increased numbers of college-bound test-takers (with the accompanying increase in variety of economic background, school quality, etc..) then anything else, but I have no data to back that up.

    What I find most interesting about the data in table 2, however, is the gender differences. Despite the educational establishment’s attempts to make the schools more girl-friendly, females continue to achieve math scores between 30 to 40 points lower than their male peers.

    Worse still, in the verbal area, where girls are commonly held to have the advantage, they move from a slightly higher score than the boys in the late 1960’s to a 5-10 point deficit during the last ten years. What’s the deal?

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