Lower SAT reading scores indicate flaws in American education system


Contributing Writer

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According to a College Board press release, the mean score on the SAT Reading exam was 497 for the high school class of 2011.
That’s the lowest score since 1972.  Not good.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that students are not as smart or are not able to read as well as they should.  There are other factors at play here.
First of all, there has been a national tendency over the past few years to emphasize math and science in public schools.
With more time devoted to those subjects, it’s natural that scores in reading and writing could drop.
Second, the College Board – the company that administers the SAT – gave the exam to a record amount of students in the class of ’11:  nearly 1.65 million students.
This group was also the most ethnically diverse class ever to take the SAT, due in large part to a great increase in the number of students of Hispanic origin taking the exam.
This statistic gets right to the heart of why lower reading scores don’t necessarily imply poorer reading skills.
Any test of reading comprehension is culturally biased in that it must assume that the reader not only understands the language to a great extent, but also is familiar with the culture.
A student who spent most of his life in France but who took English courses throughout school most likely won’t be able to fully comprehend Mark Twain.
Because of the growing diversity of the exam pool – especially the growing proportion of children with immigrant parents and children raised in households that don’t speak English primarily – the assumptions concerning the lower scores on the SAT reading exam are becoming less and less justified.
There is another, more worrying statistic about the SATs, however:  The College Board lists a total score of 1550 (out of a possible 2400) as the College and Career Readiness Benchmark.
Statistically speaking, a 1550 indicates that a student has a 65 percent chance of achieving a B- average or higher in freshman year.
Ready for the bad news?
In 2011, only 43 percent of college-bound seniors got a score of 1550 or higher.
That means that 57 percent of the current freshman class, nationally, will get a C+ average at best.
Again, not good.
This  fact doesn’t mean we are getting dumber.
It doesn’t even necessarily mean that college performance is going to go in the tank.
The SAT measures what you know.
There is no doubt that the scores are bad and getting worse, and something needs to be done about that.
It’s indicative of the problems of our education system as a whole.
However, anybody who has been to college for more than a week knows that what you know is far from the most important indicator of how well you will do in college.
In my mind, the most important things we need to test for college readiness are how well we can learn new things and how hard we are willing to work to learn them.  What a student already knows is truly secondary to these.
The makers of the test themselves say that, for individual high-stakes decisions such as college entrance, SAT scores should be considered alongside grades and other factors.
As of now, I’m unaware of any standardized test that can measuresthese other factors.
And maybe a test isn’t the way to do it.
We need to get past our predilection for quantifying abstract concepts such as intelligence or college readiness.
To me, it isn’t even something that can be quantified.
Think about it.
Does it really seem reasonable to claim that you can mathematically figure out how well somebody will be able to understand Robert Frost?
Of course not.
Even the makers of the SAT say that, for individual high-stakes decisions such as college admission, SAT scores should always be used alongside grades and other factors.
There’s no doubt that the SAT is a good test of some of a students’ attributes, but it ignores other far more important ones.