Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SAT Scores: Good news and bad news

This week, the College Board released information about college-bound seniors who took the SAT in 2009. The New York based non-profit, which oversees the famous college admissions test, definitely tried to spin the results in a positive manner. The headline on the website? "2009 College-Bound Seniors Are Most Diverse Group Ever to Take SAT® As More Minority Students Prepare for Higher Education."

This is true; about 40% of the 2009 test-takers were minority students, vs. 29% in 1999. About a third of the test-takers said their parents had not gone beyond high school, so the positive spin is that a bigger proportion of America's high school students are thinking about college and considering it a feasible goal to get there.

On the other hand, despite decades of school reform efforts, the overall scores have been fairly flat, with reading scores actually dropping over the long term (math scores are slightly up over the long term, but not by much).

It is one thing to encourage a diverse group of Americans to consider college (which taking the SAT amounts to doing); it is another thing for our schools to actually educate children to be capable of attending college. The scores indicate that while aspirations are high, the results on the ground are not so great...except if you happen to be Asian.

The average math SAT score for Asian young people hit 587 this year, compared with 536 for white students, and 426 for black students. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal today, Asian students tend to do better at all income levels. Officials said this was "because they tend to take more Advanced Placement and other rigorous courses, and their families place a strong value on success in education."

I would love to find a study that looks at the actual practices of Asian children and Asian parents -- where these daily differences between Asian families and, say, white families arise, and what they look like. When it comes to education and test results, there is little known about best practices. When you know what works, you can try to put it into practice in other places as well, and it strikes me that this would be a fruitful area for study.

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