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A few thoughts about the latest SAT scores

September 01, 2006

If the goal of America's education system is to leave no child behind, then it makes sense to have more students prepare for SAT, a key indicator of whether students are prepared for college.

But at the same time, the College Board, which administers the SAT, lengthened the traditional three-hour exam by 45 minutes, added a new writing section and threw in some tougher math questions.

The result? Scores for the combined verbal and math portions of the SAT fell by an average of 7 points across the nation. In Maryland, the drop was 11 points.

College Board officials told The (Baltimore) Sun that the new, tougher test will raise educational standards across the U.S.

State School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick also raised the possibility that if students who took the test for the first time hadn't taken courses that cover SAT material, it follows that the scores would be lower.

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In Washington County, SAT scores were up slightly over those of 2005, but not as high as the 2004 scores.

Average writing scores here were 487, which is 12 points lower than the state average. The national average is 497.

Math scores, on the other hand, topped the state average by 10 points.

We have several thoughts:

When Maryland instituted the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) - since replaced - there was a constant clamor to change those tests. We opposed that, because it's impossible to measure student progress if the test is frequently revised.

The College Board should be encouraged to settle on a standard format and hold onto it for at least 10 years, so educators can tell whether progress is being made.

SAT prep courses help by allowing first-time test-takers to see the format and the types of questions they'll be facing. Every parent should encourage their children to take one, either in a classroom or through the purchase of a computerized version.

This seems simple, but systems that encourage students to take the SAT should make sure the pupils they're encouraging have taken course work that will give them a chance at a decent score.

Finally, don't wail about "teaching to the test." To a great extent, the SAT is the yardstick the U.S. has accepted to measure whether students are good college material.

Telling students that the test isn't fair doesn't help. Often, life isn't fair, and the sooner children learn that - and how to overcome it - the better off they will be.

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