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Thursday, September 26, 2013

College Board: SAT Scores Going Down As GPAs Rise

For the fifth year in a row, fewer than half of the students taking the SAT got "college ready" scores.(biologycorner/Flickr)

For the fifth year in a row, fewer than half of the students taking the SAT got “college ready” scores.(biologycorner/Flickr)

A report on this year’s SAT scores just came in, and it’s not pretty.

The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness shows that after two years of decline, the national SAT scores were flat this year.

For the fifth year in a row, the report shows that fewer than half of the students taking the test got “college ready” scores.

James Montoya, vice president of higher education for the College Board – the group that administers the SAT — joins Here & Now to discuss the findings.

(College Board)

(College Board)

(College Board)

(College Board)





The organization that administers the SAT said today that fewer than half of the people who took the exam this year are ready for college. It's the fifth year in a row for that alarming statistic. Overall, scores were flat, following two years of declines.

Joining us from New York is James Montoya, vice president of higher education for the College Board. And, James, I have to say, it's surprising to me that less than half the students taking the SAT are getting college-ready scores. But this seems to be, as we said, an ongoing problem.

JAMES MONTOYA: Well, it is. This number has remained flat for the last five years and I think really represents a call to action. We need to have more students college-ready because what we know is that those students who are college-ready actually not only enroll in college at a much higher level but complete college within four years. And it's really essential that we keep that number of students graduating each year.

One of the things that I've taken note of, and I think the public should take note of, is that while it is very clear that students who take a core curriculum in high school - and by that I mean four or more years of English, three or more years of math, three or more years of natural sciences and three or more years of social sciences and history - do better on the SAT and more of them meet the college and career benchmark.

But the fact is that of those who complete a secondary school core curriculum, only 49 percent met the benchmark. And this suggests that there must be more rigorous courses in high school and that the core courses themselves need to be more rigorous.

HOBSON: It also suggests, when you look at the year-over-year scores, the averages, that things are getting worse, not better, because if I look at, for example, in critical reading in 2006, the average being 503, and now it's 496. Same deal in math and writing. They've gone down.

MONTOYA: Well, at the same time that we have seen the scores go down, what's very interesting is that we have seen the average GPAs reported going up. So, for example, when we look at SAT test-takers this year, 48 percent reported having a GPA in the A range compared to 45 percent last year, compared to 44 percent in 2011, I think suggesting that there simply has to be more rigor in core courses.

HOBSON: Well, and maybe that there's grade inflation going on.

MONTOYA: Well, clearly, that there is grade inflation. There is no question about that. And it's one of the reasons why standardized test scores are so important in the admission office. I know that, as a former dean of admission, test scores help gauge the meaning of a GPA, particularly given the fact that nearly half of all SAT takers are reporting a GPA in the A range.

HOBSON: The racial breakdown is also pretty interesting with Asians scoring the highest on average, 1645 total, and then whites at 1576, black Americans at 1278.

MONTOYA: And, again, I think what we see is the need for there to be more African-American and Latino students completing a core curriculum. We see fewer Latino and African-Americans completing a core curriculum compared to their white and Asian cohort. Now, we were pleased to see an increase, though slight, of the number of African-Americans and Latino students who did meet the college and career benchmark.

But clearly, their numbers, 15.6 percent for African-Americans and 23.5 percent for Latino students, fall well below the 43 percent average. And I think that this is an issue that we feel must be addressed. So again, as we look forward to the work of the College Board, we see it very important that this year's report be a call to action, that we move forward quickly. What we know is that we must infuse into the daily work of our students more rigor, because it will be this rigor which leads to more practice. And more practice, of course, leads to greater achievement.

So we are very much focused on making certain that secondary school students, all students have the opportunity for more rigorous work and have the opportunity of practice within the context of rigorous work, which we believe leads to greater achievement, which leads to greater numbers of students going to college, and most important, greater numbers of students graduating from college.

HOBSON: Well - and we should say that your report noted - since you mentioned practice - that as is the case with the ACT, the students who take the rigorous prep courses do better on the SAT.

MONTOYA: One of the things that's most important is that we know that students who take the PSAT do better on the SAT. And as a former dean of admissions, the same advice I gave then as I do to students today, the best preparation for the SAT is to take a rigorous courseload in high school, to take the PSAT and to take the free practice SAT that we make available for all students. Like any other exam, greater familiarity to the test, its format and to the type of questions will only make the test easier for students.

HOBSON: I have to ask you one question, because I have you here. Why is the SAT always putting the word unscrupulous on there? Is that really such an important word?

MONTOYA: Ah. You are talking about vocabulary.


MONTOYA: Yes, you're right. It's one of those words people identify as an SAT word. All I can say is that as we move forward, one of the things we want to make absolutely certain of is that the vocabulary that students are expected to know will be vocabulary that they will be able to use as college students, and which will be valuable to them.

HOBSON: James Montoya is vice president of higher ed for the College Board, which administers the SAT. James, thanks so much for talking with us.

MONTOYA: My pleasure.

HOBSON: Well, what do you think? Is the SAT a good measure of readiness for college? Or do these falling scores tell you that maybe the SAT is no longer the best way to test students on college readiness? You can let us know at hereandnow.org or facebook.com/hereandnowradio. We'll be back in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • louisa demerjian

    This story really bothered me because I think it is too simplistic. The SAT is only one test and there are many reasons why students might not do well on that one test, that one day. The fact that GPA’s are on the rise can’t be explained away by a blanket statement that grades are being inflated (as was done by the guest-expert and the reporter). There are other possible explanations; for example, teachers assess students in a variety of ways: class participation, presentations, projects, informal and formal essays, which might not be evident in test scores. Standardized tests are not the only format for proving what you know and not everyone performs well on them. I wish that when stories are done on education, people who have never taught would stop jumping to conclusions instead of digging deeper. As a teacher who doesn’t inflate grades but who does in fact push her students to prove that they have learned something (every day, not one day), I would like you to use the same skills my students are developing–use your critical thinking skills and dig deeper than the easiest explanations.

  • chaysayd

    The story bothers me too. This guy is leaping to the conclusion that a slight drop in test scores means that schools are not teaching rigorous content? Putting aside the fact that a drop of 5 points may not actually be statistically significant (just simply reflecting a slight a year-over-year variation that’s totally normal), is that really the only possible explanation?

    For example, what percent of students took the test this year compared to past years? We are pushing more and more kids towards college. As a result, those who, in the past, would not have considered college are now doing so. As the pool of test takers grows, wouldn’t we EXPECT the overall test results to decrease? Instead of skimming off the top 25% of students, say, we are now testing the top 50%. A larger pool of SAT and ACT test takers would seem to logically lead to lower overall scores, as more “mediocre” students take the test.

    Is it really possible that this guy didn’t think of that? Or did the SAT look at those numbers and rule that out as a possible contributing factor?

  • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

    What the decline in SATs tells me: “no child left behind” education reform has lowered the quality of US education somewhat.

    The metaphor I think of is spinning your wheels. Research shows that increasing homework load past a certain very limited time is self defeating.

    We have had non-experts that ignore research setting the overall goals of US education during the first decade of the century, but that may be changing.

  • Lis

    I think the jump to “classes aren’t challenging enough” is a bit simplistic of a theory. What sort of budget and resource restraints have influenced these changes? Do teachers have what they need to teach to different learning styles, teach different levels of students in one class, and the necessary tools to successfully adapt to the constantly changing education requirements? Education questions are never a single layer, but I think rather than continually changing what teachers need to be teaching (and hoping it makes for smarter students) we should focus effort on enabling teachers to do their jobs to the best of their abilities with the support and resources they need.

  • Tina Murua

    It seems entirely possible that our students are not college ready precisely because of the increased reliance on high-stakes standardized testing. When merit pay (or even a job) is tied to students’ performance on a test, when funding for a school or district is at risk because of students’ performance on a standardized test, of course you will have all the core courses being taught to the test, with no room for the type of analysis and thoughtfulness that actually prepares students for college. Taking practice SAT exams will prepare a student for the SAT, but it will not make him any more college ready.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      I think the problem has been the emphasis of breadth of material, resulting in too much to learn resulting in shallow, inadequate learning.
      How to learn itself is a primary skill, and we’ve taught a lot of kids a poor method.
      A good method: focus in on something in all the depth you like until you feel totally satisfied.
      Of course, that would amount to a revolution.

  • Elizabeth

    In their evaluation of the lower SAT scores, is the College Board taking into account the effect of students who take the test early, as “practice,” to get a better sense of the test and what areas to concentrate on studying more before taking it again, perhaps more than once or twice?

  • Name

    More rigor or Rigor Mortis? Maybe the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu would know. SAT has never been relevant. It is even less so now.

  • John Louton

    SAT scores are, and always have been, a psuedo-scientific, but very profitable, commercial endeavor. I took the SATs in 1960 at a small high school in northern Illinois. My near perfect scores with more than two times as high in both math and verbal than the scores my brother achieve. Nonetheless, he got his first Ph.D. before I graduated from undergraduate school!!

    I note that the name of the exam implies it is a predictor of a student’s ability to succeed in an academic environment. If universities would just stop using them as any measure for accepting students, the money would people spend on test prep courses might actually be used for educating people.

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      Interesting. This reminds me of numerous first-hand accounts of children learning to read at an somewhat older age ( age 7 instead of 5), but then going further and becoming better readers later. Human intelligence and learning is quite complex and as a society we tend to use simplistic models and reforms.

  • Idaho Lecturer

    I teach introductory college math. Compared to ten and twenty years ago, students are less prepared and less determined. They cheat more than past students. No wonder that SAT scores are down.

    • The_Truth_Seeker

      The College Board itself is not a particularly competent bunch, so I don’t know if they should be consulted in regards to anything having to do with education (especially if they have something to gain financially)! Also, look at how competent they were in judging the 2004 Siemens Science “competition” (and then, along with Siemens, agreeing to cover up the whole fiasco and getting the news media to also go along with the cover up). Still feel sorry for the 1200+ students that took part in that competition, who NEVER learned the truth about what happened. So, thanks news media for helping Siemens and the College Board cover up that big scholastic mess! Everyone should beware of “uber-hyped” academic competitions, because the stakes are just too high for everyone involved (especially if some annoying little thing like ethics is gets in the way of winning and getting publicity).

  • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

    Lis, intrinsic motivation is so superior to extrinsic motivation. The solutions used for so-called “broken” education has most often been to bear down and add homework, etc.
    But I scored a composite 32 on the ACT doing almost no homework after 3:30pm, simply because I read a lot and was intrinsically motivated, and had a decent amount of physical activity, good nutrition, and some native math inclination.
    I’m slightly encouraged by the Common Core representation of depth over breadth. We’ll see.

  • Angie

    In my experience of working at a state university, I have been repeatedly appalled at the very poor quality of writing skills among the graduate students I have supervised. The field is Professional Social Work, so these are not students who lack writing skills due to their focus on math.
    For probably 40 years, I have been dismayed by the large amount of content and the excessive level of sophistication of content pushed in elementary, middle, and high school when students have clearly not yet mastered the basics of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic. I am downright excited about your guest’s statement about the need for students to get a LOT of practice on the skills and information they are learning so that they master these before they move on to other subject matter. The field of advertising has always known that repetition, repetition, repetition is what makes information and attitude stick in people’s minds.
    I had 2 learning experiences that illustrate this: (1) In high school, my 2nd year Latin teacher didn’t teach the class anything. She literally spoke in Latin conjunctions only (no content ). As a consequence, I was totally lost in 3rd year Latin. The only thing that kept me from failing 3rd year Latin was that I worked hard and had an excellent foundation in first year Latin. (Note: I had already learned how to study.)
    Contrast that with the English teacher that I had in my junior year of high school. Mind you I was in the higher level class, yet that teacher committed herself to creating students who were able to write. So we wrote, and wrote and wrote essays of every kind. She corrected everything we wrote and returned it to us within the week to redo and turn back in. Again, she reviewed and corrected our rewrites which again, we corrected and turned back in. Thus the process went until we “got it right”. She also taught lessons on specific elements of proper grammar and what was improper grammar. We were then expected to incorporate these lessons into our essays. We also corrected each other’s writing when we had in-class writing assignments. To this day, if I pay attention, I write well. I also rarely use spell check, because I learned to spell in elementary school.
    I hope that our educational system will one day grasp that quality learning vs. quantity of content mastery is what matters. Without this approach, students will continue to build on wobbly educational foundations. Wobbly foundations are unstable and cause every subsequent item to be wobbly as well. Which of us would choose to live in a building with such a wobbly foundation?????
    One more comment: Students today are so dependent upon technology that they are not building their memory skills and often are not developing strong problem-solving skills. In universities there is an emphasis on freshman and even graduate students developing and displaying their “critical thinking skills”. Again, this should be developed starting in elementary school and be well developed by high school graduation.
    A great deal of thought must be given to the promotion of this solid education, particularly given our heavily technological world.
    Thank you for this opportunity and for your program.

  • HeadPhones54321

    I see the change in scores, on both the GPA and SAT sides, as teachers being overworked.

    If a teacher has five classes of 35 rather than 20 kids they are keeping track of 175 rather than 100 kids (that’s 75 more report cards to write, 75 more permission slips to track, 75 more facebook accounts to monitor for bullying). If a child is doing poorly teachers have to contact the parents and discuss. This becomes difficult with so many kids, so what’s the easiest solution? Shift the curve and bring more students above the “call home” line. This is not the fault of teachers, while they may get lots of holiday, there’s only so much time while school is in session.

    As for the SAT, well, increased workload for a teacher means less practice for their students. If our example teacher above assigned a written page as a homework (or in class) activity, grading them (at a paltry 3 min per student) will take nearly 9 hours.

    Over the years class sizes have been creeping up, and everyone seems to think adding two or four students here or there is no big deal…it is now. Throwing money at the problem in the form of (lobbied for) computers and software is not solving the problem of good teachers burning out, or students needing personalized feedback.

  • G. Williker

    Look at the comments here–excuses abound. The trophy-for-every-kid mentality is not working. Your kid isn’t a precious little snowflake, different from all the others, who deserves to be evaluated differently. Your kid needs intellectual calisthenics. Parents are in the habit of lavishing praise. Kids expect a pat on the back for every thing they do right. Teachers are just, well… dumber.

    As an employer, I cannot hire people under 40. I don’t have the time to stop and praise them for doing what I hired them to do–and they get sour if I don’t. It’s pathetic!

    Grade inflation is a sad reality. My ex taught college level English and would bring home “I tried my best, why didn’t I get an A?” and “I’m paying you, where’s my A?” stories every single semester. Merit means nothing to this generation. It’s all about how “sincerely” they “tried” between Tweets. And business degrees–god, what a scourge! Education has become a business and the degrees and grades are the product that this generation buys. Deny it all you like, but prepare to be owned by India and China.

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    No question that there has been a tremendous decline in academic standards and student achievement (as well as interest and motivation), but I also believe the College Board is something of a racket, even if it is technically a “non-profit”. It’s main goal seems to be self-preservation and growth and making sure that students keep taking the SAT and that colleges heavily rely on it.

  • javaper

    All right, I’m jumping in without having read any of the other comments. I listened to this article on the way home this afternoon and had a lot of thoughts on it. As a teacher, I feel that we are losing our direction. We want our students to all go to college, but lets face it, not all of them will. Our biggest let down on SAT and ACT scores are solely based on the fact that our children aren’t learning what they need to learn at the earliest stages of development. We spend so much of our time trying to make learning fun that we forget that sometimes it takes actual, hard work to achieve a learned subject. I mean the get your hands dirty and feel the sweat pour off your brow kind of “hard work.” We can’t expect our students to do well if they haven’t learned that deep down it takes an intrinsic desire to improve ones self, and to really want to be satisfied with overcoming something that they thought was hard. I taught high school last year, and sadly I had seniors who couldn’t read, write, or even do math. We are so concerned with pushing through the numbers and having the most graduate or move along, that we lose out on quality education and relationships with the students. At the high school I was at, we would let the students pass with such low grades, and no understanding of the required knowledge that the students knew they could get a free ride in most of their classes or recover their missed grades in small sessions that required no actual learning. I had students who were proud that they got by on so much little acquired knowledge. How can we talk about increasing the rigor of the class work when the students don’t even understand the basics. We are allowing a less than prepared generation leave our schools only to make the next generation even less prepared. And no, we can’t solve the problem of education by throwing large amounts of money and technology at it. Just look at LA and their recent issues with handing our iPads to all their students. The students circumvented the safeties and started to install social media apps. Not to further their education, but to play and to ignore their teachers even more. It has become such a hassle to deal with tablets and cell phones in the classroom. They aren’t needed and they cause a distraction. I had other teachers who were inviting my students to play games with them on their phones during my lecture time. It was rude and created further distraction. And before anybody writes me off as an old dude who doesn’t know technology, I am in my late twenties, love technology and am a Digital Animation and Graphic Design teacher. So I don know the role that technology plays in our lives, but we can’t expect it to be the main tool that which we teach by. Too many school districts hand over this tech without properly devising the methods by which we as teachers can effectively teach. The scores on standardized tests is only the tip of the ice berg. We shouldn’t even be using these tests as the singular derivative of how are children are doing. They all learn in different ways, and we can’t rely upon large-scale testing as a means to measure success. Before we start making classes harder and throwing more real-world issues at our students we need to re-learn how to deliver the basic information to succeed to them. We are seriously failing at teaching our kids to have some pride in doing a good job in school. No, it doesn’t have to be cool, but it should be important to each and every one of our students. On a side note, not all students are meant to or want to go to college. There is nothing wrong with developing a strong vocational program at a school. Many students want to learn these hands-on occupations but still need the basic knowledge of reading, writing, and doing math to understand it all. School should be fun, and it can be, but it won’t be if students are feeling left out and don’t have a proper way of learning the information so they don’t feel unprepared. Now I’ll get off of my soap box.

  • Indiana Professor

    My background spans elementary to college. Presently,I am a professor in the Academic Skills office of a state university. I do believe that SAT’s correctly identify
    students 75% of the time. Each semester I have about a quarter of the students in my class test out. This can be attributed to several factors that have little to do with the actual intellectual abilities of the students. That being said, the remaining students who were correctly placed are: learning disabled, ESL, motivational/maturity problems, and students who were not properly prepared by their high schools.
    So how do we solve the problem? First, we do need to up the standards at all levels of education. Second, I have found through experience that we cannot assume that any student has support out of the classroom, and with the exception of the highly motivated students most will do very little independent work at home. This is not necessarily the fault of the students, as there are many external factors that contribute to the problem. Third, In order to address this we must implement block scheduling at all levels for required core classes. Lessons should include:
    assessing student knowledge, introduction of concepts, guided practice until
    mastery, and independent practice. Even at the college level I spent at least 50% of my class time circulating and working with students one on one. In addition, all students should participate in peer editing (must students are better at identifying mistakes in their peers work than they are in their own). They must also learn metacognition skills so they can effectively self-evaluate their own learning. Fourth, teachers must be creative in tapping into school and community services, as well as finding additional help to evaluate student work. It does little good to assign work that cannot be properly evaluated. It is also a disservice to the students if we are diluting assignments due to our own time restraints. We need to be advocates for not only ourselves as educators, but for the students as well.

  • Dan Matz

    The College Board is hanging on for deal life because of the increasing irrelevance. It’s a shame that NPR and Hear and Now wasted air time for what is basically an 8 minute commercial for the College Board which suggests that people are not good at using their product so should use more of their product.

    Data driven standardization is killing creativity in education.

  • OscarG49

    All this preparation needs to happen before they even start high school, programs that make this not an issue are not test planning at 15 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-state-of-nova/post/viennas-wolftrap-elementary-school-gets-800000-building-from-alumnus-chris-shumway/2012/05/22/gIQAYHFIhU_blog.html

  • Stephen Perkins

    Are you practicing investigative broadcast journalism or conducting softball interviews which placate your corporate sponsors? Any time someone uses the term rigorous as frequently as Montoya did, it should raise red flags. The priorities of our educational system should be focused on providing opportunities for children to develop & demonstrate love, compassion, kindness, respect & integrity. If adults do not model this behavior them children will not have peace of mind, meaningful connections with each other or healthy relationships. It is clear that individuals like Montoya have very little understanding of the stages of development that children go through. Requiring them to be subjected to excessive high stakes standardized testing & more rigorous rather than richer curriculum will not produce the type of high functioning children or adults that are society needs.

  • Minority Scorer of 1730

    Maybe the material and rigor on the SATs isn’t taught in all classrooms, and the issue is an educational opportunity gap… Students can do well in school without meeting a standardized criteria; school success is partially contingent on subject matter and rigor.

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