SAT score watch: Why are average scores down? Day 2!


At the Post, you can take your choice between information and spin: In yesterday’s Washington Post, Michael Chandler did a follow-report about this year’s SAT scores. More specifically, he provided more information about the way the tests are being taken by a wider student population.

This wider participation might explain why average scores are slightly down this year. (For yesterday’s post on this topic, just click here.)

First, Chandler described a “technical shift,” a change to which he briefly alluded in his original front-page report. According to a College Board spokesperson, a change in reporting procedures this year may have lowered average scores:
CHANDLER (9/19/11): The College Board has traditionally calculated average SAT scores for graduating seniors through March of that year. For the Class of 2011, it began including scores from tests taken through June.

The switch added about 50,000 test-takers, or 3 percent of the total. Although not a huge number, these late entrants to the college process are more likely to be "VERY low performers," a College Board spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
For the first time, the last-minute Charlies and Charlenes were included. This may tend to lower the average.

Next, Chandler reported another possible factor in the lower average scores—“the growing popularity of the ACT, a rival college entrance exam.” How would that work? “Although the SAT is dominant in the Washington area,” Chandler writes, “more local seniors are trying both, rather than seeking to improve their SAT scores by retaking it.”

Presumably, if seniors don’t try to improve their SAT scores, this would tend to lower the average, though Chandler doesn’t check this logic with the College Board.

In a final point, Chandler noted another way the tested population is growing. Some states now require or enable all students to take the SAT:
CHANDLER: Increasingly, the SAT and the ACT are being used to encourage students to apply to college, not just to enable them. [sic]

Delaware has a new four-year contract with the College Board to administer the SAT to all high school juniors.

Texas offers all students vouchers to take the SAT or ACT for free, and Idaho is moving in the same direction. Seven states offer the ACT to all juniors: Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.

"Obviously, not all these students go to college, but it helps to focus them on the idea of going to college," said Ed Colby, an ACT spokesman.
It isn’t clear that any of this would have affected this year’s average scores. But at least Chandler was trying!

Unheard of! In two reports on this topic, Chandler provided real information! But if it’s spin and partisan screeching you like, the Post had something for you as well! Right next to Chandler’s report, the Post published this information-averse analysis by Valerie Strauss. That was the place a reader could go to learn that it’s all Bush’s fault.

For years, we liberals slept in the woods. Now we’ve emerged, and we enjoy our silly spin too! Strauss’ “logic” is very weak—but it does let “liberals” feel good!

Strauss is sure it’s all Bush’s fault. This is about as close as she gets to making an actual argument:
STRAUSS (9/19/11): The College Board also noted that nearly 1.65 million students from the 2011 graduating class took the SAT and that it represented the most diverse class in history. Forty-four percent were minority students, 36 percent were first-generation college-goers and 27 percent do not speak English exclusively.

It further noted that “it is common for mean scores to decline slightly when the number of students taking an exam increases because more students of varied academic backgrounds are represented in the test-taking pool,” and it said that “there are more high-performing students among the class of 2011 than ever before.”

Who’s kidding whom? If there are more high-performing students, there must be more low-performing students, too, to bring down the average.
Sad. Strauss jumped on an upbeat claim by the College Board, thus ignoring the larger claim—the claim that wider student participation tends to bring average scores down. In fact, Strauss never even mentioned the fact that participation went from 47 percent in 2010 to “more than half” this past year. Why glaze the eyes with that?

Strauss then cherry-picked a datum or two and her work was done.

Why did average scores inch down this year? Like Strauss, we can’t tell you. But people like Strauss always know in advance! In truth, the world was a better place before pseudo-liberals joined pseudo-cons in pretending to reason like that.

1 comment:

  1. Thought the Howler staff would want to know that PBS's "POV" series is showing a film about the Baltimore schools tonight:

    "The Learning" is the story of four Filipina women who reluctantly leave their families and schools to teach in Baltimore. With their increased salaries, they hope to transform their families’ lives back in their impoverished country. But the women also bring idealistic visions of the teacher’s craft and of life in America, which soon collide with Baltimore’s tough realities.