SAT Scores: A Gauge of College Readiness?

By Catherine Gewertz — September 14, 2011 1 min read
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You’ve likely noticed that the most recent SAT scores are out. And while the folks over at the College Board are playing up the positives (more students, especially more disadvantaged students, are taking it; more students are at the top tiers of performance), the scores declined since last year, especially in reading.

And the College Board trotted out something new: a “college and career readiness benchmark.” It’s an SAT score that is linked, according to the College Board, with a better chance of earning a B-minus average in courses during the freshman year of college. The magic number here seems to be 1550 (out of 2400 across the three subject areas: reading, writing, math). Apparently, 43 percent of the SAT test-takers in the class of 2011 met that mark, although the College Board cautions that the benchmark should be used to assess the readiness of groups of students, not individual students.

If any of this sounds hauntingly familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard the ACT’s version. The ACT has its own set of college-readiness benchmarks, or scores that correlate with better chances of doing well in college. (See our latest story on annual ACT scores for more about the benchmarks.) And they reported this year that only about one-quarter of the students taking that exam met the mark in all four subject areas. This year, too, as we’ve noted, the ACT sought to use its scores and benchmarks as a gauge not only of college readiness, but career readiness.

So we have both big college-entrance-exam companies portraying their exams as indicators of readiness for college, and producing two very different pie-chart snapshots of readiness. We also have the two companies portraying their scores as gauges of readiness for work, even as disagreement persists about the extent to which the skills required to soar in college overlap with those required to succeed in good jobs. We have all this happening as “college and career readiness” is one of the most-frequently-uttered phrases of 2011 in education circles, and hundreds of millions of federal dollars are riding on designing tests to reflect it. We also have the ongoing competition between the SAT and the ACT for the title of most popular college-entrance exam.

An interesting mix of elements, all worth watching.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.