This article is based on a story from The Washington Post some months back. It’s always interesting to note that media sources seldom speak to actual teachers in trying to figure out the mysteries of contemporary education, and this story is no exception. The topic? The SAT.
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.
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.
Ah yes. It’s so puzzling. Why aren’t federal, one-size-fits-all, top-down, educational mandates working? The people forcing such things on everyone are experts, the finest minds in the world. If you don’t believe that, just ask them; they’ll be glad to fill you in. And everything the Federal Government touches turns to gold, right? Right?
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.
Oh, I’m alarmed all right, but let’s see what their explanations are.
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.
Hmm. And who, exactly, would these “educators” be?
Cyndie Schmeiser — chief of assessment for the College Board, which owns the SAT — said she is concerned because the share of students prepared for college has stagnated for five years. Close to 42 percent of students who took the SAT reached a score of at least 1550, a benchmark for college and career readiness. The share was far lower for Hispanic students (23 percent) and African Americans (16 percent).
‘Simply doing the same things we have been doing is not going to improve these numbers,’ Schmeiser said in a statement. ‘This is a call to action to do something different to propel more students to readiness.
And what would “propel more students to readiness?” Why more governmental mandates, of course!
Caveats abound when SAT scores are released. The students who take it are in most cases a self-selected sample, motivated to endure a grueling exercise of 3 hours and 45 minutes on a Saturday. (The test is offered during school days in all public high schools in the District of Columbia and a handful of states.)
Some students take the SAT two or three times. Scores also track closely with family income, rising with affluence, so annual variations in who takes it can swing the results. That makes comparisons of scores among schools, school districts or states problematic. The lower the participation, generally, the higher the scores.
That last sentence is one of the primary explanations, not that the Washington Post or “educators” are capable of understanding that.
North Dakota, for example, has a seemingly stellar score: 1791, about 300 points above the overall average. But just 134 North Dakotans in the Class of 2015 took the SAT; nearly all students in that state take the rival ACT exam. By contrast, the SAT average in Idaho is 1372. But nearly every graduate in Idaho this year — 17,695 in all — took the SAT.
Speaking as an actual “educator,” one that actually educates children rather than forcing mandates down the throats of teachers, parents and kids everywhere, perhaps the most significant problem is that government has, particularly during the Age of Obama, pushed the bizarre idea that everyone must attend college, therefore secondary education must be all about “college readiness.” It must also be about mandatory, high stakes testing preparation and several other things, but it’s certainly all about college readiness.
There are a great many problems with this, but where the SAT is concerned, it means that virtually every kid will end up taking the test. Some school districts mandate that every student take the PSAT–a sort of SAT benchmark test–before taking the SAT. Some districts actually pay for their students to take the SAT. Many districts teach SAT preparation courses.
So what’s wrong with that?
Not everyone should go to college. Most people don’t have the IQ–surprisingly, intelligence actually matters in college–the academic preparation, or the interest. Most people don’t need a college degree for their intended careers, and they surely don’t need to drop out of college without a degree and hundreds of thousands of dollars in college loan debt they have no hope of paying off.
In the past, when colleges only sought and accepted those that were genuinely prepared to succeed in college doing genuinely college level work, only those people took the SAT, and national SAT scores reflected that reality. Now that everyone and their dog is taking the SAT–and being accepted into college regardless of their scores–one need not be a genius to understand that this fact alone will significantly lower SAT scores. Obviously, the self-imagined federal geniuses and “educators” aren’t genius enough to understand this salient fact. Or they do understand, but pretend to be oblivious.
Since 2005, the SAT has included a writing section worth up to 800 points. That will change in March, when the College Board rolls out a new version that makes the essay optional, does not penalize guessing and contains fewer obscure vocabulary words. The perfect score will snap back to what many parents and teachers remember — 1600.
Through the redesign, Schmeiser said, the College Board aims to ‘deliver 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.’ She cited a partnership with the nonprofit Khan Academy to offer free online tutorials for students preparing for the new SAT. College Board officials are hoping to level the playing field for students who can’t afford expensive test-prep classes.
So, the College Board, a for profit company, gives and scores the SAT to “deliver 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”? Odd, that. In the past, the company gave the test to provide presumably valid scores to colleges, which colleges would use to screen those not suited for success in college. Now it’s about social engineering, not actual academic performance, isn’t it?
We see this problem not only with the SAT, but with state level mandatory testing. Whenever new tests are designed and sold…wait a minute! Why should new tests ever be necessary? To hear the companies involved, each and every one of their tests is perfect, the best human beings can possibly produce. Why then are new ones periodically necessary? Profit, of course. Never forget, gentle readers, that despite the smokescreen of supposed concern for the nation and the educations of individual children, it’s really all about money and political power.
And regarding the SAT tests: Go here to determine just how valid these tests really are, and to learn how more and more colleges no longer use SAT or ACT test scores in admission decisions.
Back to the point. Whenever new tests are designed and sold, this is done to produce specific results that can’t be obtained by means of actual education, because that’s not what the test results measure. So rather than actually concentrate on actual teaching and learning, rather than doing away with months, even entire semesters of test preparation rather than the actual curriculum, the tests are adjusted to produce the appropriate level of scores. This normally takes 3-5 years and hundreds of billions of dollars.
One additional issue is that for the past several years, students arriving in high schools throughout America are the vanguard of the tested generation. They are kids that have known little but mandatory, high stakes testing from the moment they set foot in a public school. They have, as every year has come and passed, been subject to more and more ruthless test drill, and less and less curriculum. A month dedicated to drilling to raise test scores is a month lost to actual learning and brain development. These are kids that have lost years of curriculum. There is no way to get those years, all of that lost brain development, back.
The result of this is a generation of kids who never made the neural connections to understand more advanced concepts. These are kids who will never have the cultural knowledge and common heritage of past Americans. Their base of basic, factual knowledge is tiny compared to pre-testing generations, their vocabularies equally small, and their ability to read–to say nothing of their interest in reading–and their ability to retain and understand what they read is severely hampered. In very real ways, they are a generation of children emotionally and academically abused.
And what are we doing about it? We’re going to adjust the SAT to produce higher scores–and much higher profits for the College Board and every parasite attached to it.
That’s what education is these days, and as with so much else, we’ve done it to ourselves–and to our children and grandchildren.