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Average SAT Goes Up! and Down!

It’s always fun when two different–and reputable–publications report the same story and lead them with different headlines.

The facts: the College Board reported that the average score on the SAT tests last year went down slightly. The averages were 501 for critical reading, 515 for mathematics and 493 for writing.

Inside Higher Ed led this story with the headline “SAT Scores Drop, Gaps Grow.” This publication chose to emphasize that while the overall scores did not decline all that much, the “achievement gap” between white kids and kid “of color” have widened slightly. As more students take the test, it becomes more and more apparent that black and Latino children are not performing as well as their white counterparts. (Note that when we talk about the “achievement gap,” we are not generally referring to the widening gap between Asian Americans and white kids…but that gap is widening, too. Nor are we emphasizing the gap in performance between boys and girls…but that gap exists, too).

The New York Times, on the other hand, led the same story with the headline “SAT Scores Steady for Class of ’09.”  The emphasis here was on the fact that while there was a slight decline in the average critical reading, the average math scores held steady.  The article does point out, however, that these gaps in achievement according to ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic class are increasing, in part because more and more minority students are taking the tests (40% of test takers were minorities in 20009, up form 48% in 2008).

Just goes to show you that the headline does not convey the entire picture, and different publications with different editorial policies will choose to emphasize different things in their articles.

On this particular story, I prefer the Inside Higher Ed version.  It gives a bunch more information, including a breakdown of scores by ethnicity and with some comparisons of scores between 2009 and 2005.  While the average yearly decline is not great, the decline over five years is more pronounced.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Planner



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