Latest SAT Scores Raise New Alarms Over 'Test-and-Punish' Education

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Latest SAT Scores Raise New Alarms Over 'Test-and-Punish' Education

"Test-and-punish policies, such as 'No Child Left Behind' have clearly failed to improve college readiness or narrow racial gaps."

Education reform is failing students across the board, but particularly those from low-income families, experts say. (Photo: Alberto G/flickr/cc)

New statistics show that average SAT scores countrywide have dropped to their lowest level since the college admissions exam was redesigned in 2005, continuing a 10-year trend that education advocates say illustrates the failures of test-driven schooling.

According to the College Board, which reported the statistics on Thursday, the average SAT score for the class of 2015 was 1490 out of a possible 2400, with points declining on all three sections of the test—reading, math, and writing.

That raises an alarm for the The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), an education advocacy group, which said the latest SAT numbers highlight the failings of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and other standards-based scholastic achievement measures.

Bob Schaeffer, FairTest public education director, said in response to the latest statistics, "Test-and-punish policies, such as 'No Child Left Behind' have clearly failed to improve college readiness or narrow racial gaps, as measured by the SAT," adding that other standardized admissions exams like the ACT and the National Assessment for Education Progress show similar trends.

As education reform activists have long warned, while the standardized testing takeover in education affects students and teachers across the board, it has hit low-income and students of color the hardest. In an op-ed published Thursday, journalist Michelle Chen writes on the unforgiving methods of standards-based curricula and the growing 'opt-out' rebellion against such systems:

[T]he impacts of the testing obsession arguably hit children of color the hardest. And families of color in struggling schools have more at stake in both taking the exam and rejecting it en masse. Anti-testing activists have emphasized the connection between test-and-punish school reform measures, school closures in communities of color, and the disciplinary policies driving the so-called “school to prison pipeline.”

[....] [The tests] don’t assess skills or teacher “effectiveness” so much as they measure conformity and the establishment’s power. Students, families, and educators are learning fast that whatever they put on the answer sheet, it all adds up to zero.

Indeed, as education policy analyst Diane Ravitch has previously explained, SAT results correlate with poverty levels—children from low-income families receive the lowest scores, and those from affluent families receive the highest. "The Wall Street Journal suggests a new name for the SAT: the Student Affluence Test," Ravitch wrote in 2014.

Other factors that affect test scores are language barriers, education levels of parents, and "social ills" that plague low-income areas, the Washington Post reports.

Another overhaul of the SAT is coming next March, when the College Board will make an essay portion optional, cut penalties for guessing, and remove some of the lesser-known vocabulary words. But as FairTest's Schaeffer sees it, the test is not what needs remodeling.

"Fortunately, many more college and universities are recognizing that standardized exams fail to measure key factors for academic success," Schaeffer said, referring to the growing list of higher-ed institutions that de-emphasize the use of standardized tests in making admissions decisions.

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