Unfair Test?

This post is going to be one of my rants, and a geeky one at that, so if you’re looking for SAT tips, please be patient and wait for another article.

The College Board recently announced that SAT scores dropped (again), and numerous articles have appeared on the Web and in print.  The one that caught my eye was in Newsday, and it ironically appeared next to a photo of a just-launched long-distance rocket.  “Shouldn’t that rocket be crashing?” I wondered, until I realized that the photo belonged to an article about NASA’s new rocket.

Anyhow, after the usual moaning and hand-wringing about students’ lack of preparedness for success in college, I came across this:

Anti-testing advocates seized upon the latest dip in SAT scores as further evidence that schools have spent too much class time prepping for standardized exams and not enough time on instruction.

 “We feel that schooling on average has been dumbed down by a fixation on testing,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group.

First, let me make clear that I like FairTest.  As their name implies, they put pressure on private and public institutions who administer the bevy of tests that permeate our lives, in the interest of keeping them fair.

But hold on!  If the scores went down, how exactly does one conclude that the problem is that students spent too much time studying for them?  If students ignore their subjects and study for the SAT’s too much, shouldn’t they be acing the SAT’s and then flunking out of college?  Methinks that FairTest would have complained just as much if the scores went up.

What exactly does the dip in scores mean?  Are we becoming a nation of illiterates (Reading scores dropped the most)?  The drop in scores from last year was 4 points out of 1800 (scores range from 600 to 2400 for the three sections combined).  Is a 4-point drop meaningful?  The scores for each section are multiples of 10 – you can score 560 or 570, but nothing in between.

4 points might seem like a measly difference, but I’m willing to concede that it means something, if for no other reason than the scores have dropped steadily for several years.  But does that really mean we’re getting dumber?  Is there lead in my favorite breakfast cereal?

I think it’s hard to conclude just what is responsible for the dip.  It has been suggested that more below-average students are taking the SAT’s than did in earlier years.  Another theory is that more students for whom English is their second language are pulling the scores down.  Perhaps there are other factors.

I believe we should look for positive strategies, rather than expending our time finger-pointing and overanalyzing.  Tests are a necessary part of the educational process, and that means we have to spend time studying them.  Sure, we shouldn’t overdo it.  But as parents and students, we should recognize that we must adapt to a changing world.  Reading used to be considered fun; now it’s geeky.  And students can’t be expected to give up XBox and FaceBook.  But students must also realize how easy these and other modern distractions make it to neglect activities that are vital to their future.  And parents must be vigilant in reminding their teenagers of this, and taking an active role overseeing their childrens’ activities.

Study hard, get a good job, and you can afford next year’s iPad.  Now that’s fair.

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