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More Than Half of SAT Test-Takers Not Ready for College

Nov 30, 2011

For more than 80 years the SAT (now known officially as the SAT Reasoning Test) has been used as one of the standardized assessments to determine a high school student's readiness for a postsecondary education. SAT scores from the latest test-takers indicate that less than half of all high school students in the United States are ready to enter college. Education Insider takes a look at why scores might be dropping and what that might mean for America on a global scale.

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By Harrison Howe

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Is America Falling Behind?

Compared to 2010, there has been a decline in scores in every major section of the SAT: reading (down three points), math (down one point) and writing (a 2-point drop). Reading scores in 2011 were 497, the lowest since records of scores began to be kept in 1972. Comparatively, in other countries such as China standardized test scores are on the rise.

So where does that leave the United States? Possibly unprepared to keep up with other nations in competing for what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called 'the jobs of the future.' For instance, jobs in leading companies such as Dell, ExxonMobil and AT&T will undoubtedly call for proficiency in math, science and writing. Considering the decline in SAT scores, there simply may not be enough Americans qualified to fill these types of positions.

So, why the drastic drop in scores even as schools across the country have emphasized efforts to raise standardized test scores?

Fingers have been pointed at President Bush's 2002 No Child Left Behind legislation, a 'test-and-punish' method that has been deemed by some to be a failure. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), an organization that promotes accurate educational testing practices and which speaks out against standardized testing, says there has been a 'significant' drop in SAT averages since No Child Left Behind became law.

If there's good news to be found, it's that more students took the SAT in 2011 than in any previous year (nearly 50% more than in 2010), which indicates 'we have more students thinking about college than ever before,' one College Board vice president told The Washington Post in September. The College Board also indicated that there was a greater diversity among those taking the test, which while also considered a good sign could also explain the decline in scores as a growing number of the population not normally considering a college education are now doing so.

Are the SAT and other assessment tests adequate measures of college preparation, or should colleges adopt a test-optional admissions policy?

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