Average SAT scores across the US are at a ten-year low since the exam has been redesigned, the College Board has announced. The average score for the class of 2015 was 1490 out of 2400, a seven point decrease from last year. The scores have policymakers and legislators worrying over student performance, college readiness and the effectiveness of testing in education.
The SAT score decline was observed in all three test sections of reading, math and writing. The new figures have rekindled the debate over the effectiveness of the education reform and have experts wondering if high school students are college-ready by the time they graduate.
"Why is education reform hitting a wall in high school?" Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank asks. "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."
The National Center of Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), an education advocacy group, says that these numbers reveal the shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Bob Schaeffer, FairTest public education director, said:
"Test-and-punish policies, such as âNo Child Left Behind' have clearly failed to improve college readiness or narrow racial gaps, as measured by the SAT."
According to the Washington Post, the gains in reading and math in elementary school did not correspond to better high school performance, the SAT score decline shows. As a result, several thousand students —mostly students of color and students from poor backgrounds — drop out of high school. Apart from poverty, other factors leading to the SAT score decline include language barriers, parent education level and urban/social issues.
For Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and prominent education advocate, SAT scores correlate with student poverty levels. Students from low-income families tend to receive the lowest scores, while those from affluent families do better.
About 1.7 million students took the SAT this year, an increase of 1.6%. Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment for the College Board, says that the percentage of college-ready students has been stagnant since 2010.
Less than half of the class of 2015 earned a score of 1550 or above, the College Board benchmark score for evaluating students as college and career ready. The percentage is significantly lower for African American students (16%) and Hispanic students (23%).
In reading, the average score of 495 is the lowest since 1972 when the College Board started issuing its reports. In writing, the average of 484 is the lowest since 2006 when the test was introduced. In math, the average score of 511 for 2015 is the lowest in 16 years. The class of 1972 had an average math score of 509.
Michelle Chen writes in an op-ed that test-driven education is a test-and-punish measure that's ineffective and harmful, especially for students of color:
"[F]amilies of color in struggling schools have more at stake in both taking the exam and rejecting it en masse. Anti-testing activists have emphasized the connection between test-and-punish school reform measures, school closures in communities of color, and the disciplinary policies driving the so-called "school to prison pipeline."
The SAT exam is undergoing another revamp scheduled to debut in 2016.