- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2012

The vast majority of the nation’s 2012 high school graduates aren’t ready for college, and SAT reading scores have plummeted to their lowest level in four decades, new data show.

Annual results of the exam, released Monday by the College Board, reveal that just 43 percent of university-bound students are prepared for the world of higher education. Fifty-seven percent failed to clear the test’s 1550-point college and career readiness benchmark, meaning they’re far less likely to maintain at least a B-minus average during their first year of college classes.

Preparing all high school graduates for college or careers has long been a key goal of policymakers, including President Obama and other leaders in his administration, but educators fear that Monday’s batch of SAT scores indicate the nation is slipping in that effort.

“Our nation’s future depends on the strength of our education system. When less than half of kids who want to go to college are prepared to do so, that system is failing,” College Board President Gaston Caperton said. “We must make education a national priority and deliver rigor to more students.”

Perhaps even more troubling than the college readiness number are the 2012 reading scores. The average score on the SAT’s reading portion fell this year to 496 out of a possible 800, its lowest mark since 1972 and down from last year’s 497.

Two years ago, the average was 500, and from 1995 to 2008, reading scores remained at 500 or better each year.

Math scores remained flat from the previous year at 514, down slightly from the 516 average of a decade ago.

Students performed best on the math portion of the exam in terms of college preparedness, with 55 percent clearing the readiness threshold, the results show. Only 45 percent cleared that hurdle in writing, while 49 percent exceeded it on the critical reading section.

D.C. students averaged 466 points on the reading section of the test, compared with 497 in Maryland and 510 in Virginia, the data show.

Each fell short of the average mathematics score, with the District at 460, Maryland at 502, and Virginia at 512.
Education leaders hope to reverse the troubling trends as the Common Core academic standards are implemented across the nation. Forty-five states have adopted the system, which officially goes into effect in 2014.

Though they’re supported by the Obama administration and many others in Washington, the standards — applying to math and English language arts — were crafted at the state level through collaboration between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“The value of this effort is that we would update our standards and expect more of students,” said Chris Minnich, the council’s senior membership director. “This [SAT] data continue to show that we need to do a better job” of preparing students for higher education and careers.

SAT results, among other measurements, won’t turn around overnight, Mr. Minnich said, but he and others do expect significant change by the end of the decade.

“I would look at the five-year trend. If we’re not seeing something in five years [after Common Core is implemented], then we need to look at what we’re doing” and make adjustments, he said.

While few dispute that students need to be better prepared for college, some specialists believe schools’ laserlike focus on standardized testing — largely a byproduct of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law — has watered down public education and, in the process, put college readiness on the back burner.

“Many students are even less ready for college than they were six years ago,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a vocal critic of current testing mandates.

“Policymakers need to embrace very different policies to reverse this trend.”

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