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SAT scores decline, but not for all groups of students

September 19, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
It's probably inevitable that every organization out there is putting their own spin on the drop in SAT scores.

According to stats that came out last week, scores on the college entrance exam have dropped across the board and reading scores have fallen to their lowest level in 40 years.

Are scores dropping simply because more students are taking the test, particularly students from high schools that provided them with less preparation for college and from families where they are the first to attempt to go to college?

That's the official explanation from the SAT company spokesman, quoted last week on NPR. Others quoted on the program were quick to blame the falling scores on the No Child Left Behind Act, which they claim has resulted in a dumbed down curriculum and an overemphasis on standardized testing. That was also the explanation for why the ACT scores of North Dakota students fell this year from previous years. More kids of all ability levels are taking the exam and hoping to go to college or tech school. More students in North Dakota take the ACT than take the SAT, which is taken mainly by North Dakota high school students who hope to attend an out of state college that requires the SAT.

SAT scores seem to differ from subgroup to subgroup. Asian-American students are improving at a rapid rate and their overall scores actually increased 40 points from 2006 to 2009. By contrast, the scores of black students declined by 19 points from 2006 to 2009; Puerto Rican students' scores decreased by 17 points; Mexican American students' scores decreased by 9 points and the scores of "other Hispanics" decreased by 14 points. American Indian students' scores decreased by 18 points. White students' scores decreased by three points from 2006 to 2009.

There's a lot of speculation about why Asian-American students have done so much better, but the consensus seems to be that it's probably cultural. Many Asian-American parents value education highly and are more likely to make their kids study hard and sign them up for after school programs where they go over questions like those they might find on the SAT. The so-called "cram schools" are very popular for middle school students in some communities in California where there are a high percentage of children of Chinese and Korean immigrant parents. Personally, I've observed a lot of Asian-American (Chinese, Korean, Indian, etc.) surnames on the National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist list that is sent out every year and certainly on the list of competitors at national spelling bee, national MathCounts and international science fair competitions.

Whatever the parents of those kids are doing seems to be working and it probably would not hurt if more parents followed their example and turned off the TV or took away the cell phone and required kids to do their homework and do extra reading or math at night. The way to boost performance levels and test scores for all kids is probably plain old hard work.


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