August 29, 2006
Young Mr. Heichert may have racked up a perfect SAT score, but the national results are nothing to crow about. This week the College Board released its data on the Class of 2006 SAT test-takers, and there's plenty of interesting information. Most notable is that in the areas of critical reading (formerly known as "verbal") and math, student scores for both males and females declined big-time. The rate of decline in math was the same for boys and girls (down 2 points each from last year), but in critical reading the male slump was worse (down 8 points, while girls' scores declined 3). It was the sharpest downturn in 31 years, one that the College Board, seemingly fishing or maybe wishing, chalks up to changes in student test-taking patterns. Namely, fewer students are taking the SAT a second time. Those who do, says the College Board, usually see a 30-point increase in scores. Maybe so--or maybe that's just an attempt to collect more test-taking fees, which, since beginning the new SAT, have risen by 41 percent (from $29.50 to $41.50). Some good SAT news is found among minority-student performance. ESL students scored 5 points better than last year in critical reading and 2 points better in math. African American and Mexican American reading scores climbed 1 point each over last year. But the biggest news is the changes in the exam itself. Overall testing time expanded by almost an hour to accommodate a new writing section, which uses multiple choice questions and an essay to test students' ability to spot errors in grammar and to organize and construct their own cogent prose using solid evidence and sound language. Across the board, girls outscored boys on this section by a wide margin (11 points). Math got harder, too, as material from third-year college-preparatory courses was added. Critical reading lost the notorious "analogies" section. But the most interesting finding may be that grade inflation is alive and well. The share of twelfth graders reporting grade-point averages of A+, A, or A- is up 7 percent from 10 years ago and 16 points from 19 years ago, though average SAT scores remained stable. The press release and data are available here.