Did you hear that SAT Scores from the graduating class of 2015 were low this year? In fact, total scores in all 3 sections are the lowest they’ve been in decades. Should we panic? Don’t worry… there’s always time to freak out later. For now, let’s tackle the question that’s perplexing the pundits who breathlessly exclaim that SAT Scores Continue Troubling Downward Slide, but No One Knows Exactly Why. I’d like to share three possible reasons:
EXPANDED POOL OF TEST TAKERS
Rumors of the SAT’s imminent demise have been slightly, or perhaps prematurely, exaggerated. A record 1.70 million students from the class of 2015 took the SAT. A higher percentage of students than ever were either underrepresented minority students and/or used fee waivers. We should be encouraged, rather than despondent, that the testing pool now includes so many more students that did not traditionally pursue enrollment in four-year colleges but are setting their sights on higher education.
We can also take comfort from the calculation that more than 712,000 students (41.9% of SAT takers in the class of 2015) met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark. Those certainly beat the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks numbers.
Speaking of that other test, this year was even better from an enrollment standpoint for ACT, Inc. than for the College Board. More than 1.9 million students in the high school graduating class of 2015 took the ACT, the highest number ever for either test. Now that all colleges accept the SAT and ACT equally and interchangeably, many strong scorers who traditionally took the former now focus solely on the latter. I can certainly confirm that many teens here in Rochester, NY–especially the ones aiming for 90th percentile or higher–take only the ACT. If you lose those test takers across the country, you shouldn’t be surprised if your groups scores drop.
The teens that do take the SAT these days have many educational advantages over previous generations, but they can’t compete with their parents, grandparents, or earlier ancestors in at least one regard. Kids today, and I assert this as a broad but fair generalization, don’t read for fun as much as kids in other generations did. Who could deny that? As a result, their working vocabularies are comparatively weak. The SAT still tests high level vocabulary in a way that the ACT does not, in the form of Sentence Completion questions. Thus, SAT test takers today can fairly be considered at a disadvantage in that regard. No wonder the College Board is stripping Sentence Completions from the new test!
The trends in test data have nothing to do with a general dumbing-down of the American public or a grand disparity between the haves and have-nots. Instead, we can find in these scores signs that more and more teens harbor a strong desire for higher education, appreciate options in college admissions tests, and could probably stand to read a lot more. Are any of these observations surprising?