SAT Reading, Writing Scores Hit Low

Based on the newsfeed, last week was a downer.

A record high one of six people are living below the $22,000 family of four poverty level. Tampa right wing nutters cheered the thought of an uninsured patient dying. Recently hired Detroit auto workers are paid one-half of their fellow assembly-liners’ wages. The University of California will raise tuition 16% a year indefinitely. The Palin kids were (allegedly) stuck with burnt mac and cheese (formatting guide—italics—quotes, underlined—tongue in cheek sarcasm). And then the week ended with the rare Seahawks-Mariners double zero*.

In keeping with the spirit of the week, Stephanie Banchero of the WSJ wrote:

SAT scores for the high-school graduating class of 2011 fell in all three subject areas, and the average reading and writing scores were the lowest ever recorded.

The results. . . revealed that only 43% of students posted a score high enough to indicate they were ready to succeed in college.

The report on the SAT comes on the heels of results from the ACT college-entrance exam that suggested only 25% of high-school graduates who took that exam were ready for college. 

The average reading score dropped to 497 from 500 points in 2010, on a 200-to-800-point scale. That is the lowest score since 1972, when the College Board began calculating the average scores of individual graduating classes. The writing score dipped to 489, down from 491 last year. Writing scores have gone down almost every year since the exam was first given in 2006. 

College Board officials offer two take-aways from the data (as reported by Banchero):

1) The declining scores can be attributed, in part, to a larger and more diverse test-taking population. As more students aim for college and sit for the exam, scores decline. Ten years ago, 8% of test takers were Latino, compared with 15% in 2011. For black students, the percentage jumped to 13%, compared with 9% in 2001. A growing percentage of students also grew up speaking a language other than English, and more than one-fifth of this year’s test takers were poor enough to receive a waiver to take the exam for free.

2) Students who took a core curriculum, defined as four years of English and three or more of math, natural science and social science, did much better. Still, only 49% of them posted a score high enough to be considered college-ready, compared with 30% of students who didn’t take a core. College Board officials noted that the reading scores have been declining most dramatically for students who took less than a core curriculum.

Banchero wraps up her story with Kent Williamson’s hypothesis for why reading and writing scores are declining. Williamson, the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, suspects declining scores are based upon a narrowing of how reading is taught. “In many schools, especially those most impoverished, reading programs are not about building cognitive abilities or a love of reading,” he said. “They are built around rote learning of language, and I think we are seeing the results of that.” 

Unscientific as it may be, Williamson’s postulate resonates with me. Too few students are engaged by their teachers’ methods and their required, too often scripted, course material.

I’ll take the baton from Williamson and offer another unscientific hypothesis. Declining scores are proof that opinion leaders’ and policy makers’ single-minded focus on global economic competition isn’t the least bit motivating to K-12 students. That focus has created a debilitating disconnect. I’ll elaborate sometime soon.

In the meantime, here’s hoping for a more upbeat news week.

* I like our chances for setting the rarely reported “same city on Sundays consecutive quarters and innings goose egg” record.

One thought on “SAT Reading, Writing Scores Hit Low

  1. Yes, it does appear as nation we are dumbing down and that poor reading skills may in fact be contributing to this. Rote skills are essential but as kids develop, so does their critical thinking capacities. Too much testing and not enough challenging of minds prime for analysis.

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