Okay. Forget about Iran

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Okay. Forget about Iran for a moment. Why is The Washington Post panicking about SAT scores?

The dramatic decline in SAT scores announced yesterday raises the issue of whether there is something wrong with the new test or, even more worrisome, with the lessons being taught in high schools.

Sounds bad. But how dramatic was the drop? Well, reading went from 508 to 503 and math went from 520 to 518. That doesn’t sound especially dramatic to me. Say you knew two families with kids applying to college. One kid gets a 1028 on his SAT and the other kid gets a 1021. Are you really going to say something dramatically different to the parents of Kid B? If Kid B’s parents were all freaked out because their kid did seven points worse than Kid A, wouldn’t you tell them to chill out? Certainly, I would.

What’s more, they changed the test. They added a new writing section. Adding a new section to the test means, presumably, that this year’s round of kids spent slightly less time studying and preparing for the math and reading tests than did previous cohorts. And so they did slightly worse. Seems to me it’s about what you’d expect. If we see a years-long trend of continued decline, then you can call me and worry. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t be concerned with the quality of American high schools, but I don’t see any dramatic new evidence of a worsening problem. What’s more, the students who are being worsed-served by the system are almost certainly the ones who aren’t taking the SAT.

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