Sunday, September 18, 2011

SAT reading scores at all-time low

Scores on the critical reading portion of the SAT college entrance exam fell three points to their lowest level on record last year, and combined reading and math scores reached their lowest point since 1995.

The College Board, which released the scores Wednesday, said the results reflect the record number of students from the high school class of 2011 who took the exam and the growing diversity of the test-taking pool -- particularly Hispanics. As more students aim for college and take the exam, it tends to drag down average scores.

Still, while the three-point decline to 497 may look small in the context of an 800-point test, it was only 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 scores as recently as 2005, when the average was 508.

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.
Other recent tests of reading skills, such as the National Assessment of Education Progress, have shown reading skills of high-school students holding fairly steady. And the pool of students who take the SAT is tilted toward college-goers and not necessarily representative of all high school students.

But the relatively poor performance on the SATs could raise questions whether reading and writing instruction need even more emphasis to accommodate the country's changing demographics. Roughly 27 percent of the 1.65 million test-takers last year had a first language other than English, up from 19 percent just a decade ago.

Jim Montoya, vice president of relationship development at the College Board, said the expanding Latino population was a factor, as well as greater outreach to get minority students to take the test. But there are others, too.

"It's a lot of little things," he said. For example, he said, the number of black students taking a solid core curriculum -- a strong predictor of success on the test -- has fallen from 69 percent to 66 percent over a decade.

The College Board, a membership organization that owns the exam and promotes college access, also released its first "College and Career Benchmark" report, which it said would eventually be used to help show states and school districts how well prepared their students are. Based on research at 100 colleges, it calculated that scoring 1550 or above on the three sections of the test indicated a 65-percent likelihood of attaining a B-minus or above average in the freshman year of college. Overall, 43 percent of test-takers reached that benchmark.

The SAT and rival ACT exam are taken by roughly the same number of students each year. Most colleges require scores from at least one of the exams but will consider either. In recent years, some colleges have adopted test-optional policies allowing applicants to decline to submit test scores at all.


'Racial Bias' Claims Insult Families of Color

Cherylyn Harley LeBon

It’s September, so it’s back-to-school for American kids and other children around the world. Many families pack away the swimsuits and beach gear, unpack the notebooks, lunch bags, brand new shoes, and look forward to the regular routine.

This fall is also an interesting time of reflection in our country.

Record numbers of Americans are living below the poverty line, the housing foreclosure rate continues to climb, and rising unemployment will, in fact, keep some of these children going back to school on the school lunch program longer than expected. In these desperate times, people resort to desperate measures - engaging in scare tactics and myths so often embraced and perpetuated by the liberal media. Chief among these myths is the controversy surrounding the SAT college admissions test. Disturbingly, the media’s promotion of this myth is creating confusion among students and families considering college options.

Opponents of the SAT test argue that the test determines who gets into college and who does not, and should be, therefore, abolished in favor of “test optional policies.” This argument is largely promoted by the group Fair Test, which advocates an end to standardized testing in college admissions.

Fair Test's roster of supporters includes George Soros, the infamous billionaire who has bankrolled and several other left-wing groups and politicians. Fair Test touts itself as an educational organization, but it is a special interest group recognized by the mainstream media as a credible source on educational testing issues.

The sad result of this misinformation is the effect on students and families preparing for college, particularly students and families of color. Fair Test continues to argue that the SAT is biased against minority and low income students. In fact, the goal of Fair Test is to play the blame game and portray minority students (or any students who do not perform well on the SAT) as victims in their sandbox game of Limousine Liberal politics.

The racial bias myth was definitively laid to rest several years ago in the peer-reviewed journal American Psychologist. University of Minnesota researchers Paul Sackett, Matthew Borneman and Brian Connelly examined the issue and reported that any inference that group scores are linked to bias is, “unequivocally rejected within mainstream psychology.” The only people still advocating that the SAT is racially biased are patriarchal liberal groups including Fair Test who play the race card when other options fail.

Others have also refuted the claims of racial bias in standardized testing.

In 2008, Jonathan Epstein, a researcher with Maguire Associates, studied the impact of test-optional policies in college admissions. Epstein discovered that test-optional policies at colleges and universities lead to artificially inflated average SAT scores among incoming freshmen. He found this resulted in further confusion for prospective students and families and “is not in the best interest of any institution or higher education in general.”

As parents, we all want our children to grow up and become productive members of society. The college search process is an important step in helping our children make major life decisions. A political group is advocating for the end of standardized testing, and continues to mislead students and families by attempting to influence an academic professional organization overseeing college admissions. The result will be to marginalize successful black students or those who come from other racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups.

Promoting the racial bias myth also harms students by creating the wrong expectation that the deck is stacked against them. The truth is, every SAT question is exhaustively pre-tested and carefully analyzed for any bias.

Questions are reviewed by panels of K-12 and college educators and questions which indicate any bias are never used in the actual test. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of the nation’s top historically black colleges and universities accept the SAT as an admissions requirement. Score differences may exist among some students in different groups, but they do not indicate bias in the SAT, and are an unfortunate reflection of inequities in K-12 education across thousands of school districts.

The continued claims of racial bias in SAT testing are insulting to all families of color when interest groups portray us as victims incapable of advocating for ourselves. The policies of Fair Test and other liberal interest groups reveal that these groups are more concerned with the politics of race than educating the children of this country.


Sex education will NOT be taught to children as young as five, after British Coalition ditches plans

Proposals for compulsory sex education for children as young as five have been ditched. Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the Coalition would not implement the controversial plans put forward under Labour and had ‘no plans to change the law on sex education’. This means that teaching sex education will remain optional in primary schools.

Family campaigners feared that statutory sex and relationship education (SRE) could lead to teenage pregnancy being seen as acceptable by impressionable youngsters.

SRE is taught in Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education lessons, although elements such as the facts of reproduction are also contained in biology classes.

Under Labour, the then Schools Secretary Ed Balls planned to make PSHE classes a part of the compulsory national curriculum in primary and secondary schools from this month. This would have seen lessons in relationships and sex starting at five, with prescribed content for each age group.

The Coalition has now launched a review of PSHE but Mr Gibb said ‘the Government has already ruled out making PSHE education as a whole a statutory subject within the curriculum’.

In a letter to Graham Stuart, chair of the education select committee, he added: ‘The Government has no plans to change the law on sex education or parents' right to withdraw their children from sex education.'

Over 2,000 people signed a letter last March calling on Parliament to ‘decisively' oppose the plans contained in the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

Mr Balls was forced to drop the proposals - along with another ten flagship policies - a month later in a bid to push through the Bill in the final days of Parliament - a period known as the ‘wash up'.

At the time, the Tories said the party had agreed to compulsory sex education but wanted parents to be able to choose to ‘opt out' if their children were below 16.

They claimed Mr Balls ‘preferred petulance' by scrapping the plans entirely in the ‘wash out', after disagreements between the two parties over the opt out age.

The Coalition has now launched a review of PSHE, proposing a strengthening in the priority given to teaching about relationships, the importance of positive parenting and teaching about sexual consent.

Primary heads and governors will continue to decide whether or not to provide sex education and what it should involve beyond the compulsory science requirements - such as the biological facts of reproduction - laid down by the national curriculum.


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