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Why have SAT Scores Fallen?

No Child Left Behind is a Failure

This is the first of a three-part series of blogs on the state of our educational system. In this blog I look at the recent decline in SAT scores and whether the No Child Left Behind program has worked. In the next blog  I tackle school accountability. My final blog will address the value of standardized testing.

The College Board announced last week that mean SAT reading scores have fallen to their lowest levels in nearly 40 years, dropping four points in the last four years to 497. Furthermore, only 43 percent of test takers achieved a total score indicating they are likely to succeed in college. The testing company claims this decrease is due to greater participation by a more diverse group of students, and cushions the news with information that our top-achieving students are doing even better. Of course, that could be an indication that the gap between the haves and have-nots, or those in the know and those who know not, is widening. As reported in the Atlantic, if you look at the demographic breakdown of scores, a disturbing trend becomes apparent: The achievement gap is as large as ever, or possibly growing.

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Fair Test reports that while white students' overall scores decreased by a mere three points since 2006, black students' scores decreased by 19 points, Puerto Ricans' decreased by 17 points, Mexican-Americans' decreased by nine points, and "other Hispanics' " decreased by 14 points. For Asians, the trend is reversed: from 2006 to 2011, Asians' scores increased by 40 points.

But it's not just the SAT that points to a widening or stagnant gap. Data from The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a nationwide sample of academic achievement, shows that between 1998 and 2007 there was "no significant change" in the gap between black and white students' eight-grade reading ability.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is an Act of Congress concerning the education of children in public schools. NCLB was originally proposed by the administration of George W. Bush immediately after he took office. The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress.

NCLB supports standards-based education reform, which is based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education. The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. The Act does not assert a national achievement standard; standards are set by each individual state.

Since enactment, Congress increased federal funding of education from $42.2 billion in 2001 to $54.4 billion in 2007. Funding tied to NCLB received a 40.4% increase from $17.4 billion in 2001 to $24.4 billion. The funding for reading quadrupled from $286 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion.

The narrowing of the achievement gap has stagnated in this decade. In the 1980s, 17-year-old black students' reading scores on the NAEP jumped from 243 to 274 (out of 500). In the 90s, the scores dipped and have since remained around 260. Meanwhile, white 17-year-old students' reading scores have been more consistent, hovering around 295 in that time period.

The purpose and mission of the No Child Left Behind Act is to eliminate the achievement gap that exists between groups of students within our nation's schools. A glaring disparity exists in the achievement of Black, Hispanic, and students living in poverty when compared to white and more affluent students in the subjects of reading and mathematics. The inescapable conclusion is that the program is an abject failure and waste of resources. We have to look elsewhere for solutions and, indeed, explanations for why we can’t seem to solve the problem of a lack of educational achievement among our school-age children. In my next blog I will tackle this complex problem.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 21, 2001

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