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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Test Scores That Matter

Posted on Tue, Sep. 04, 2007
Let’s keep focus on test scores that matter (not SAT)
“SAT scores are largely a function of family income; they correlate more strongly with privilege than any other factor.”

Thomas Toch, co-director, Education Sector
IT’S HARD TO ignore the fact that on the same day the College Board released scores that showed South Carolina’s SAT average was third from the bottom (984 compared to the national average of 1,017), the Census Bureau released its own “scores,” showing our state has the 12th worst poverty rate in the nation 15.7 percent, compared with a national average of 13.3 percent.

Poverty certainly isn’t the only thing that drags down our SAT scores or any other scores, and even it were, that wouldn’t be a reason to accept low scores. But as we enter the annual school-bashing season that inevitably accompanies the release of SAT scores, it’s important to keep in mind that this particular test has a particularly bad bias toward higher-income students.

Don’t take our word for it. Don’t take the word of Thomas Toch, a Washington think tank official who as far as we know has no affiliation with South Carolina, and who certainly wasn’t talking about our state when he made his comments to Education Week. Consider that the testing company concedes as much: The main reason it gives for the dip in scores nationally is the increase in lower-income test takers. That’s probably a big reason the testing company makes a huge deal of saying the scores should not be used to compare schools, districts or states.

SAT scores are important to individual students who are trying to get into elite schools or even schools that are trying to become elite. But as in the rest of the nation, that’s a small portion of our students. So it’s more important to keep our focus on the tests that matter to all of our students the tests that actually measure how much they’re learning and how well our schools are teaching them and demand higher scores on those. (And if we improve enough on those more meaningful tests, our SAT scores will go up, too.)

On the test that is almost universally acknowledged as a good indicator of student learning and teaching (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), our state ranks from the low 20s to the upper 30s nationally, depending on the subject and grade in question. That’s nothing to brag about, but certainly no indication that our schools are hopeless. More significantly, our improvement on the nation’s report card, as it’s commonly called, is among the best in the nation.

In the coming days and weeks, state, federal and testing company officials will be rolling out the results of an alphabet soup of other measures of students and schools. Nearly all of those results will be more meaningful than the SATs, and so we’ll save most of our analysis until we’ve actually seen those scores.

In the meantime, a little perspective on the SAT:
Our average is up 31 points in the last decade the best improvement in the nation.
And while most people focus on the “enormous” 33-point gap between our state and the nation on the core reading and math tests, what that actually means is that our students are scoring at 97 percent of the national average. Coincidentally, the portion of our population that is not living in poverty, according to those Census Bureau numbers, is 97 percent of the national average.

1 comment:

DB said...

SAT test scores are lower in SC that other states; however, you can not dismiss this measurement because a high SAT score is now needed to get in to most if not all of the SC supported colleges and universities. There is a need for more education and encouragement in K-12 to help better prepare all students for the future. A good SAT score will be need by many students (not a small few) in order to have a change at higher education.

I disagree with the implication that lower income students can not do as well as others. If given a good education and encouragement to do well, these students are likely to perform as well or better than “rich” students. There is no valid reason to categorize students in this manner. It just sounds like an excuse for not doing well!!! All students deserve the best education possible even if the teachers need to make adjustment to the way they are currently teaching. Since everyone does not learn in the same way, it is up to the professional teachers to find ways to reach all the students.
Please never forget that the students are most important concern as they will be the next generation of leaders.

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