SAT Scores See Sharpest Decline in Thirty Years
> 8/30/2006 10:18:05 AM

Educators and testing officials disagree on the causes but cannot escape the fact that the newly released College Board survey shows 2006 SAT scores dropping by seven points-the steepest decline since a sixteen point drop in 1975. Articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post report that many blame the restructured, expanded test for the scoring shift. In addition to more advanced algebra questions, the new test features a much-debated essay and multiple choice section, increasing overall testing time by more than one hour. Some argue that student fatigue played a large role in determining this year's scores, but statistics do not indicate that scores fell off toward the test's end.

Average math numbers went down by two points to 518 where verbal scores slid five points to 503. College Board officials attempted to allay public concern by emphasizing that the drop is not as significant as it seems, encompassing less than one question on each section. The overall scoring system also changed this year to accomodate the new test, as top scores moved from 1600 points to 2400. Standards for essay grading are also much more subjective than those for math or english, and many conclude that colleges will have to adjust their techniques for testing assessment.

Some also attribute the shifting scores to increased prices and a resulting decline in the number repeat test takers. Taking the test more than once can increase scores by as many as thirty points on average. In a related and more encouraging development, scores on the ACT experienced their largest gains in twenty years, boosting official claims that students are simply adjusting to a revamped SAT. College Board president Gaston Caperton argues that this year's changes are largely positive, though they do indicate that students are not focusing as heavily on reading  and writing as they once did:

"The addition of writing has made the SAT a better measure of the skills students need to succeed in college and later in life. We will continue to work with schools and colleges to encourage high standards and a greater focus on writing in the classroom."

Subsequent test results will undoubtedly add fuel to the debate as next year's seniors take on the new SAT. Testing experts and college admissions offices should closely observe how certain unexpected developments pan out: critical reading scores, for example, increased by three points among students whose families earned less than $10,000. Meanwhile, those whose earnings topped $100,000 saw a five point drop despite the fact that this group can presumably afford more preparatory courses. Most of the downward trends in scoring certainly stem from changes to the test itself. Only with time can one draw a definitive conclusion as to whether these shifts are simply growing pains or evidence of a more pervasive problem.

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