College & Workforce Readiness

Hopes Pinned on Standards to Boost College Readiness

By Caralee J. Adams — October 02, 2012 4 min read
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Another year of dropping SAT scores has the education community talking about the need for more rigor in high school and hoping that the Common Core State Standards eventually will turn test performance around.

Students in the class of 2012 scored 1 point lower on both the critical-reading and -writing sections of the college-entrance exam, considered statistically significant, while math performance held steady.

Since 2008, SAT participation has increased 6 percent, while critical-reading scores have declined 4 points, writing has fallen 5 points, and math performance remained stable, according to the “SAT Report on College and Career” released by the College Board last week.

“One of the calls to action is to ensure that greater numbers of students across all ethnic groups complete a core curriculum, which we know leads to stronger SAT scores,” said James Montoya, a vice president of the nonprofit, New York City-based College Board, which administers the SAT.

Downward Bound

The class of 2012 feared worse overall than last year’s class in reading and writing performance on the SAT college-entrance exam. Many in the education community believe the common-core standards will require more rigorous K-12 coursework, ultimately leading to better prepared students.


SOURCE: College Board

The report found that 43 percent of test-takers achieved the SAT’s college- and career-readiness benchmark—the same percentage as last year. Under the College Board’s formula, a score of 1550 indicates students have a 65 percent chance of receiving a B-minus average or higher as a freshman at a four-year college.

Overall, students scored an average 1498 on the exam, down from 1500 in the class of 2011. A perfect score is 2400. From 2011 to 2012, writing performance fell from 489 to 488, and critical reading dipped from 497 to 496. Math scores held steady at 514.

Coursework Matters

Students who take challenging courses continue to do significantly better, reinforcing support for rigorous curriculum requirements in high school and adding to hope pinned on the common standards to improve college readiness.

Forty-nine percent of test-takers who completed a core curriculum in high school met the SAT benchmark, while 30 percent of those without a core curriculum did not. Taking an honors or Advanced Placement class nearly doubles the likelihood of scoring high on each section of the test. For example, 83 percent of students who took AP or honors math met the SAT math benchmark, while 44 percent of those who didn’t take AP or honors met the benchmark.

“Hopefully, there will be more serious attention to the senior year in high school when many students drift and don’t take difficult courses and find they are not ready,” said Stan Jones, the president of Complete College America, a Washington-based nonprofit organization.

See Also

Chat: Moving the Dial on SAT and ACT Scores
Oct. 2, 2012 at 2 p.m. ET
What will it take for schools to see dramatic improvements in SAT and ACT scores? Join representatives from both testing organizations for a live chat to discuss the latest scores from the class of 2012 and recommendations for moving the dial.
Read the transcript.

Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates go immediately to college and three-quarters go within a year of graduation from high school, yet the SAT finds they aren’t ready. They will still go to college, said Mr. Jones, but will likely end up in remedial classes, which hurts their chances of completion.

Results from the common assessments now under development will likely be an eye-opener for many, as Mr. Jones expects most students will not appear college-ready on those, either. “It will take several years before we see the positive effects of common core, but I am certain we will,” he said.

Another Record

A record number of students, 1.66 million, in the class of 2012 took the SAT, up from 1.65 million from the previous year. There were 1.56 million students who took the test in 2008.

ACT participation narrowly surpassed that of the SAT, with 1.67 million test-takers this year. ACT performance by the class of 2012 was virtually flat, and 60 percent of test-takers failed to meet its college-readiness benchmark in two of the four subject areas—English/language arts, reading, math, and science—according to the Iowa City, Iowa-based testing organization’s report from last month.

The test-taking pool is becoming more diverse. Of the 2012 SAT test-takers, racial- and ethnic-minority students made up 45 percent, up from 44 percent the previous year. Another 28 percent reported English was not exclusively their first language, an increase of 1 percentage point from the class of 2011.

Performance gaps between racial and ethnic groups persist. Fifty-three percent of white and 59 percent of Asian test-takers met the SAT benchmark, while 23 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of African-Americans achieved it—identical to 2011.

Sixty percent of students whose parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher met the SAT benchmark this year, compared with 27 percent of students whose parents had not attained that level of education.

Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst for the National School Boards Association, said the decline in SAT scores might be linked to increasing numbers of immigrant students, whose first language is not English, taking the test. “The ACT and SAT are getting more students to take the test because they see college as an option. That’s a good thing,” he said.

While the SAT gets lots of attention, Mr. Hull said the test isn’t a great indicator of public schools’ success or lack of success because it is voluntary and other assessments, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, provide better comparisons year to year. “It’s important not to put too much emphasis on the score, but to analyze and see where to improve,” he said. “The Common Core State Standards will have a major impact on that with having college- and career-focused curriculum.”

While the SAT has been subject to scrutiny, a study this month in Psychological Science found its predictive value is strong—even when parents’ education and family income are taken into account.

Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, in Jamaica Plain, Mass., contends that the dip in SAT scores demonstrates that test-driven K-12 school policies that have promised improvements have failed. “Precisely the opposite has taken place,” he said in a statement. “Policymakers need to embrace very different policies to reverse this trend.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 03, 2012 edition of Education Week as Hopes Pinned on Standards to Boost College Readiness


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