The greatest enemy of knowledge, according to Daniel J. Boorstin, is not ignorance. Rather, it is the illusion of knowledge. We think we possess accurate knowledge of academic readiness when we look at grades, but those numbers rarely tell the whole story. Grades tell most of the story of a student’s ability but can be subjective, unfair, or even inflated. Adding data from state or national standardized tests adds necessary clarity and context to grades, which is where the SAT and ACT come in. Both tests mainly provide value as college entrance exams. However, by pegging certain test scores to likely outcomes in college classes, they can also help forecast how students might perform once they begin undergraduate-level work .
We’ve been tracking the disappointing trends illuminated by ACT College Readiness Benchmarks for years. Might SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmarks provide a rosier outlook on our nation’s future college students?
According to College Board, SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmarks help students and educators assess student progress toward college readiness from year to year. Students are considered college- and career-ready when their SAT section scores meet both the Math and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing benchmarks.
- Students with an SAT Math section score that meets or exceeds the benchmark have a 75% chance of earning at least a C in first-semester, credit-bearing college courses in algebra, statistics, pre-calculus, or calculus. The current Math benchmark is 530.
- Students with an SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) section score that meets or exceeds the benchmark have a 75% chance of earning at least a C in first-semester, credit-bearing college courses in history, literature, social sciences, or writing classes. The current Evidence-Based Reading and Writing benchmark is 480.
Looking at the numbers for the graduating high school class of 2019, we can see that more high school students took the SAT last year than ever before, surpassing the record number of SAT takers in the class of 2018. This growth can be mainly attributed to the substantial increase (36% to 43%) of students taking school-day tests. This expanded access served to shine a light on the same disconcerting trend the ACT numbers reveal. To paraphrase The Notorious B.I.G., “Mo data, mo problems,” and the problem here is that less than 50% of SAT takers in the class of 2019 met both college readiness benchmarks. To be specific, the number is 45%, down from 47% for the class of 2018.
For further clarity, 68% met only the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing benchmark, 48% met only the Math benchmark, and 30% met neither.
As I’ve said before, when one of the most widely administered and carefully calibrated standardized assessments in human history captures a steady decline in basic mastery of fundamental academic skills like reading, writing, and problem solving, we should not restrict our ire to the exam itself. Don’t let the College Board’s flaws distract from the manifold failures of American society to prepare students for success in college and careers. Rather than dismiss inconvenient data, we should dig more deeply into them… we don’t seem to be finding solutions to these profound problems anywhere else.