Part 2—Why average scores are lower: Nick Anderson is an experienced education reporter at the Washington Post, a major American newspaper or imitation of same.
According to his corporate bio, Anderson “joined The Post in 2005 after covering Congress and education for the Los Angeles Times, and he is a graduate of Stanford University.”
Anderson is highly experienced. Presumably, he isn’t stupid. For those reasons, we can only assume he was being dishonest in last Thursday’s front-page news report about the new SAT scores.
The College Board is the large corporate entity which runs the SATs. Late last week, it released its annual reports about the scores attained by American students on the 2015 testing.
Yesterday, we showed you the first five paragraphs of Anderson’s lengthy front-page report. Below, you see that passage again. By paragraph 5, it can only be said that Anderson seems to be lying, presumably in line with company policy:
ANDERSON (9/3/15): Scores on the SAT have sunk to the lowest level since the college admission test was overhauled in 2005, adding to worries about student performance in the nation’s high schools.“It is difficult to pinpoint a reason for the decline in SAT scores?” Unless we engage in obsessive parsing, Anderson seems to be lying when he makes that ridiculous claim.
The average score for the Class of 2015 was 1490 out of a maximum 2400, the College Board reported Thursday. That was down 7 points from the previous class’s mark and was the lowest composite score of the past decade. There were declines of at least 2 points on all three sections of the test—critical reading, math and writing.
The steady decline in SAT scores and generally stagnant results from high schools on federal tests and other measures reflect a troubling shortcoming of education-reform efforts. The test results show that gains in reading and math in elementary grades haven’t led to broad improvement in high schools, experts say. That means several hundred thousand teenagers, especially those who grew up poor, are leaving school every year unready for college.
“Why is education reform hitting a wall in high school?” asked Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank. “You see this in all kinds of evidence. Kids don’t make a whole lot of gains once they’re in high school. It certainly should raise an alarm.”
It is difficult to pinpoint a reason for the decline in SAT scores, but educators cite a host of enduring challenges in the quest to lift high school achievement. Among them are poverty, language barriers, low levels of parental education and social ills that plague many urban neighborhoods.
Perhaps his editors made him say it! We have no way to know.
Why is it so hard to believe that Anderson acted in good faith when he wrote that front-page news report? The answer lies in two bone-simple types of information—the changing demographics of SAT test-takers, and the average scores which get recorded by different groups of kids.
These bone-simple types of information take us into the ugly results of our brutal American history. They also display some effects of ongoing social policy.
However we may assess those matters, the information here is bone-simple, and Anderson is fully aware of this information. Perhaps in line with company policy, he chose to pretend that he isn’t.
Let’s start with average SAT scores attained by different groups of American high school students. As Anderson surely knows, these were the average reading scores attained by four major demographic groups on this year’s testing:
Average scores, 2015 SAT, readingPlease understand! Those are not the average scores for all American students in the respective groups. All students don’t take the SATs. Those are simply the average scores for those kids who did.
White students: 529
Black students: 431
Hispanic students: 450
Asian-American students: 525
National average: 495
That said, there is a large range of average scores among those four demographic groups. In math, the range of average scores was substantially wider:
Average scores, 2015 SAT, mathThe College Board doesn’t encourage reporters to review these basic data, which can be used to criticize the SATs, often unfairly.
White students: 534
Black students: 428
Hispanic students: 456
Asian-American students: 598
National average: 511
That said, these data are published for all to see. For the year 2015, click here, scroll down to Table 7: Total Mean Scores by Ethnicity.
The gaps between the average scores of those four basic groups haven’t changed much in recent years. Anderson, an experienced reporter, knows all about these facts, which are painful but very basic.
That gives you a rough idea of the way different groups have scored on these tests in recent years. Now, let’s discuss recent changes in the demographic distribution of the students who take these annual tests.
Every education reporter knows all about what follows! Right at the start of this year’s overview report, the College Board discussed the demographic changes in SAT test-takers:
THE COLLEGE BOARD: A record 1.70 million students from the class of 2015 took the SAT, compared to 1.67 million students from the graduating class of 2014 and 1.65 million in the class of 2011.That’s wonderfully guarded corporate language, as you can probably see. Let's translate into the English:
32.5% were underrepresented minority students, compared to 31.3% in the class of 2014 and 29.0% in the class of 2011.
25.1% of SAT takers in the class of 2015 took the exam using a fee waiver, compared to 23.6% from the class of 2014 and 21.3% from the class of 2011.
We can’t see where the College Board ever explains the term “underrepresented minority students,” although the term may be defined somewhere in their reports. Based on data from years of reports, it seems to mean this: “black, Hispanic and American Indian students.”
Whatever! In that passage, the College Board seems to be saying three things. More kids are taking the SATs each year—and as they do, the percentage of minority kids within the tested group has been growing. Also, the percentage of low-income kids has been growing—students who get a “fee waiver.”
Surely, everyone understands the basic meaning of those basic facts. In part because of our brutal history—in part because of ongoing social policy—black and Hispanic kids have been scoring substantially lower on the SATs than white and Asian-American kids. And not only that! Every year, black and Hispanic kids constitute a larger percentage of the kids who sign up to be tested.
That may be good educational policy, but it will rather plainly tend to lower average scores!Just for the record, these are the percentages of the total group tested who came from those four major groups in 2011 and in 2015, according to College Board reports:
Percentage of the total group tested, 2011/2015In 2011, white students constituted 53 percent of all SAT test-takers. In 2015, white students constituted just 47 percent of the total group tested. By way of contrast:
White students: 53/47
Black students: 13/13
Hispanic students: 16/20
Asian-American students: 11/12
In 2011, Hispanic students constituted 16 percent of all tested students. In 2015, Hispanic students constituted 20 percent of the total group.
These are basic, bone-simple statistics. Every education reporter on earth is able to understand one basic take-away from these basic facts.
At the present time, Hispanic students score substantially lower on the SATs, on average, than white students do. If more Hispanic kids take the tests, and fewer white kids take the tests, this will tend to lower the overall average scores!
Everybody understands this basic, bone-simple logic! In particular, Nick Anderson understands this logic. In truth, there’s no chance he doesn’t understand every point we've made today—absolutely no chance on earth.
(We’ll even assume that Anderson’s editors understand this bone-simple material, although no one ever went broke underestimating the Post’s editorial staff. Or the extent to which we pseudo-liberals don’t care about topics like this.)
This brings us back to the front page of last Thursday’s Washington Post—to the lengthy, front-page news report which carried Anderson’s byline.
By paragraph 5, Anderson was saying this: “It is difficult to pinpoint a reason for the decline in SAT scores.”
Unless we’re parsing with extreme care, that statement represents an obvious act of deception. One basic reason for the decline in average scores is staring us right in the face, in ways which Anderson understands. Indeed, the College Board highlighted the demographic changes in question right at the very start of its annual report.
That said, the Post has played this remarkable game for many years now. So have many other major American “news” orgs. We know of no other part of American life where our news reporting is so baldly “fictitious”—where the news you’re allowed to hear is so carefully “edited” to comport with approved elite scripts.
Basically, the Washington Post was lying to its readers last week. That said, they’ve been doing this for a good many years when it comes to the meaning of domestic and international test scores.
The New York Times is almost as bad, as we’ll see by the end of the week. Last Thursday, the Post flunked the SATs. In Gotham, the Times came close.
Tomorrow: Repeat after us...