SAT reading scores down
September 15, 2011, 04:58 AM
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SAT Scores Down
From CBS:
SAT reading scores for the high school class of 2011 were the lowest on record, and combined reading and math scores fell to their lowest point since 1995. 
The College Board, which released the scores Wednesday, said the results reflect the record size and diversity of the pool of test-takers. ... 
Still, it’s just the second time in the last two decades reading scores have fallen as much in a single year. And reading scores are now notably lower than as recently as 2005, when the average was 508. 

In contrast, scores on state exams mandated by the No Child Left Behind act have gone up, UP, UP! I wonder why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the College Board and ETS don't have large material incentives to get scores up by hook or by crook. There's this concept called "conflict of interest" that you may have heard of, although evidently George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy hadn't.
Average math scores for the class of 2011 fell one point to 514 and scores on the critical reading section fell two points to 489.

My guess is that math is more amenable to schoolroom instruction, since kids seldom do math for fun on their own. Since 1983, America has invested a lot in math teaching (often at the expense of history, arts, music, etc.), and we've gotten a (quite) modest but positive ROI. Reading in the classroom and homework, however, is merely a fraction of the total reading kids do (or ought to do), so spending less time on other subjects and more on reading has a more marginal effect.
College Board officials pointed to a range of indicators that the test-taking pool has expanded, particularly among Hispanics, which is a good sign that more students are aspiring to college. For instance, roughly 27 percent of the 1.65 million test-takers last year came from a home where English was not the only language, up from 19 percent just a decade ago.

Up through 2007, it was common for Hispanics to drop out of high school to take construction jobs, or the like. Since unemployment went up, Hispanics have been flooding into community colleges to give themselves something to do. Presumably, more marginal students are taking the SAT, depressing scores.

Also, they've been letting more and more students take the SAT for free since 2007, so the number of minority test takers increased from 553,000 to 720,000 from 2007 to 2011. (Here's the College Board's report.)
But the increasingly diverse group of test-takers is clearly having more trouble with reading and writing than with math. Wayne Camara, College Board vice president of research, said recent curriculum reforms that pushed math instruction may be coming at the expense of reading and writing — especially in an era when students are reading less and less at home. 
“We’re looking and wondering if (more) efforts in English and reading and writing would benefit” students, Camara said. ../
Based on research at 100 colleges, the College Board calculated that scoring 1550 (equivalent to about a 930 on the SAT M+V before 1995) or above on the three sections of the test indicated a 65-percent likelihood of attaining at least a B-minus average in the freshman year of college.

I once took a detailed look at what percentage of students in LA County public high schools score 1000 out of 1600 (M+V) on the SAT, which is a little below that 1550 out of 2400 cutoff that the College Board suggests. Among LAUSD seniors, only 14% scored at least 1000/1600.

The CB report says that this score of 517 / 800 is very close to the minimum Proficient score on the fed's NAEP test of 12th graders. 517 is about the 57th percentile, while 500 is exactly the 50th percentile this year.
Overall, 43 percent of test-takers reached that benchmark. The College Board emphasized the tool is for policymakers, and shouldn’t be used by college admissions officers to evaluate individual candidates. 
The main message from the College Board was the importance of a rigorous curriculum, which is a strong and perhaps growing predictor of SAT scores. 
For instance, nearly one in five students takes less than four years of high school English. That’s about the same percentage as a decade ago, but it now makes a much bigger difference on SAT scores: The reading scores of those students have fallen from 500 to 462. Students who took AP and honors classes, meanwhile, score significantly higher across the board.

Causality!
A decline in average scores isn’t necessarily good news for top students who were applying to competitive colleges. The number of high scores is also increasing. For instance, the number of students with math scores of at least 700 is up 22 percent since 2007.

Some of that may be ACT takers also taking the SAT. But, I think it's pretty clear that the SAT is more and more being successfully gamed by the upper middle class's Tiger Mothers. College Board / ETS don't have strong incentives to lift average scores, but they also don't have strong incentives to crack down on whatever it is that is allowing elite offspring to separate themselves from the masses.

For example, when I went to Rice, the average SAT score was about 1300. Now, it's about 1440, which makes me 140 points awesomer. What incentive do I have to complain?