SAT Scores Are the Lowest in a Decade

SAT scores have dropped to their lowest level since 2005, the year the college admissions test was restructured. The low scores are causing concern about how well the nation’s high schools are preparing their students for college or career. In many neighborhoods of color, the answer is not well.

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The average score for the Class of 2015 was 1490 out of a maximum 2400, the College Board reported Sept. 3. That was down seven points from the previous class’ score and was the lowest composite score of the past decade, the Washington Post reported, saying that there were declines of at least two 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 shortcoming of education reform efforts, the Post reports.

The College Board announced in a recent press call that the 2015 results showed a larger and more diverse group of students taking the SAT; it also reiterated its commitment to connecting the exams to more educational and scholarship benefits. For example, low income students are eligible to use fee waivers that waive the cost of taking the SAT. Fee waivers automatically make the student eligible to receive college application fee waivers; although not every school accepts them.

The College Board is redesigning the SAT, which it aims at “deliver[ing] opportunities for students to succeed in college and careers. It will take time to improve these numbers, but we’re deeply committed to making progress,” Cyndie Schmeiser, the College Board’s chief of assessment, was reported as saying.

But Are College Admissions Tests Even Necessary?

It’s been widely reported, however, that a student’s high school GPA is a better predictor of success in college than admissions tests like the SAT or ACT. In 2014, the largest study of students who did not report their admissions test scores showed no difference in grades or graduation rates. The study involved 123,000 students at 33 colleges, and showed categorically that high school course grades predicted how well students did in college; whether they tested well or poorly on college admissions tests. Since these exams do not predict college readiness or success, does it make sense for schools to become test optional?

The tests do not predict how well any students do, even those who submit their scores to test optional schools. And making schools test optional does not, as many schools claim, increase diversity in their student body or among graduates. It has been suggested that colleges go ‘test optional’ because it increases their selectivity (because more students apply, more get rejected) and leads to the submission of test results from only high test scorers, according to Washington Monthly, “…Test-optional policies overall have not been the catalysts of diversity that many have claimed them to be,” declared University of Georgia researchers that analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education.

SAT scores also correlate with wealth. Quora reported in January that kids from the wealthiest families outscored the poorest kids by nearly 400 points. It goes on to say, “Thus the SAT is just another area in American life where economic inequality results in much more than just disparate incomes. And making matters worse, some employers continue to ask for test scores years after graduation.”

Although the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free personalized test prep, it’s unlikely that a 400-point difference can be attributed to even the most rigorous test prep alone (And despite the claims of test prep companies, some dispute just how helpful they are.)

Instead, it’s the cumulative effect of 17-odd years of the better schools and better resources that wealth can buy for the privileged. And that’s OK. But we should acknowledge that instead of saying things like, which I heard on NPR the other morning, “African American and Latino students have, on average, struggled on the SAT.” What the reporter should have said was, ‘Black and Hispanic students have historically been educationally underserved in this country and continue to be, for the most part, underserved; and yet they are held to the same standards and compared with those who are superfluously served.’

Quora concludes, “when the SAT is crucial to college, college is crucial to income, and income is crucial to SAT scores, a mutually reinforcing cycle develops.”