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SIMMONS: Still smarting over dismal SAT scores

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The three R's of learning are readin', writin' and 'rithmetic. Now hold that thought for a few minutes because we, dearest readers, have lost focus.

If you really and truly want to judge whether the way forward is with Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, then cast your lot using this forecast: The latest SAT scores and other data from the College Board say the majority of high school graduates are not ready for collegiate prime time.

When they are not prepared to learn after coming of age, then they're not going to be in a position to sustain the mental, physical and emotional stamina it takes to pursue a career or properly tend to themselves and their families.

Now instead of starting this discussion with a breakdown of the facts, which are spooky in and of themselves, let's start with the spookiest rub of all.

The senior membership director for the Council of Chief State School Officers suggests we wait five years to determine whether the low marks reflected in the SAT data are a trend or a burp.

"If we're not seeing something in five years [after Common Core State Standards are implemented], then we need to look at what we're doing," Chris Minnich told Ben Wolfgang, who reports on education for The Washington Times.

Ain't that a gas?

Wait until after President Obama has had another four years or after Mr. Romney has occupied the White House for four years before grabbing the yardstick?

FYI, Mr. Minnich's organization supports deepening federal involvement in public education, though our founders saw no need to embed such a position in the U.S. Constitution. (Thank the heavens.)

Besides, the current yardstick measurements speak volumes about our recent past, our present and our future.

The SAT is the standard exam commonly used by colleges to assess applicants' reading, writing and mathematics abilities. The highest possible score is 2,400, which an applicant earns with a perfect score of 800 points in each of the three categories.

Here are the SAT results for the nation at large, D.C., Maryland and Virginia for 2012 high school graduates.

Nationally, 57 percent failed to clear the SAT benchmark of 1,550 points, which, Mr. Wolfgang explained, means "they're far less likely to maintain at least a B-minus average during their first year of college classes."

The nationwide reading average fell to its lowest since 1972 -- 496 out of a possible 800. Reading scores have hovered around 500 since 1995. Math scores, meanwhile, remain flat at 514. A decade ago, the average was only 516.

Regionally, D.C. students are at the bottom of the pack, averaging only 466 points in reading. They did worse in math, with an average of only 460.

Virginians beat D.C. and Maryland students in reading (510) and math (512). Marylanders were perched between the two jurisdictions with 497 in reading and 502 in math.

And know this, too. In 2008, the national reading, writing and math average scores in pubic schools were 496, 487 and 508, respectively. In 2012, they were 491, 481 and 505.

So our college-bound students are not better off today than they were four years ago.

Since four years ago, when the majority of American voters selected Team Obama-Biden, classroom use of calculators at least kept SAT math scores flat. Unfettered access to electronic encyclopedic information, spell check, various social media and obviously ill-educated teachers continue to dumb down the whole lot of young Americans.

A bit of good news is in order, though.

More than 1.6 million graduates took the SAT, more than ever before. But even that positive is overshadowed by our children seemingly becoming dumb, obsessed as they are with operating smartphones, Facebooking, tweeting and emailing.

Gray matter is the new couch potato.

The College Board results prove the ability to proficiently read, write and calculate must remain the building blocks of our education system.

I certainly hope you are not ROTFL, because that's precisely what the wait-and-see crowds want you to do for the next five years.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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