Christine Parker: The SAT SCORES: THE UPS AND THE DOWNS AND THE CONCERNS

Oct 11, 2006 by

An Interview with Christine Parker: The SAT SCORES: THE UPS AND THE DOWNS AND THE CONCERNS

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

The SAT and SAT scores have been with us for many years. It is one reflection of the quality of education, and one reflection as to how well students are doing in school. It should not be seen as the only important measure, but, it is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, just as ACT scores are an important part of college admissions procedures and process.

Given the above, it is probably prudent to reflect on SAT scores, and of course ACT scores (hopefully in a future interview).

In an effort to be fair, however, we must recognize that the schools of the 1950’s and 1960’s are not the same as the schools of the 1970’s and 1990’s.

Further, the United States is attempting to educate more and more students with special needs, exceptionalities, medical and other impairments and other conditions.

Further, the “family” unit, if you will is not the same today as it was years ago, and classroom discipline and management differs today from 30 or 40 years ago.

Further, the educational system addresses more and more domains of concern (character education, sex education, driver’s education and the like) while continuing to offer extracurricular sports, and activities.

In this interview, Dr. Christine Parker responds to some questions about the recent release of SAT test scores. This interviewer attempted to clarify some issues regarding students with exceptionalities taking the SAT, and address the issue of fairness. College admissions counselors are, understandably concerned about the data that they receive in terms of admissions decisions. Scholarship funding sources also examine SAT scores as well as high school g.p.a. and other data.

Some of Dr. Parker’s responses raised the eyebrows of this writer.

Some psychometrically oriented readers may want more information about standard error of measurement, and how significant “a few points” are in the big scheme of things.

Christine Parker is Executive Director of High School Program Development for the Princeton Review, where she has worked since 1884 helping hundreds of students improve their scores on college admissions tests and successfully wend their way through the labyrinthine process known as “applying to college”.

In her current position, she oversees all of The Princeton’s Review’s high school courses including training teachers and consulting on some of the Princeton Review’s best-selling test preparation books for the major college admissions tests, such as “Cracking the SAT” and “11 Practice Tests for the SAT and PSAT”.

She steadfastly believes that no test can tell students who they are, what they can do, or who they will become, but that every test is an opportunity for learning and growth. She also holds a Ph.D. in Education from The Ohio State University, which helps her contextualize the current mania surrounding standardized testing and train teachers to serve the student, not the test. In her spare time, she really does like to write SAT and ACT questions because she really is that big of a geek. Contact her at ChristineP@review.com (the above bio was not written by the interviewer, but by some other person, perhaps even Dr. Parker herself!)

1) On Aug 29,2006 the National SAT scores were released. Do we have good news, bad news or more of the same?

The news is decidedly mixed. While some minority groups have stayed the same or even improved their average scores by a point or two, the overall message is that math scores decreased by 2 points and reading scores by 5 points. This is a 7-point drop total, one of the largest in over 30 years. The score drops affected certain groups more than others, particularly in reading, where boys dropped a whopping 8 points overall. These drops are most likely temporary and caused by the changes in the test in 2005.

2) In retrospect, since let’s say 1956, how have things been going say, every ten years?

The data I have on hand only go back to 1967. Generally, there has been a decline in reading scores between 1967 and about 1991, at which point reading scores began to creep up. However, today’s scores are 40 points lower than they were 39 years ago. Math scores declined between 1967 and the early 1980s, and have been generally increasing ever since. Today’s math scores are 2 points higher than they were in 1967.

There are a number of reasons why the data look like they do, but one of the biggest factors is the socio-economic changes in those who take the test. Thirty years ago, the SAT was taken by a smaller percentage of students, which makes sense in an age when college was not a feasible path for many students.

As you know, post-secondary education has become more inclusive, and the expectations of earning college degrees more widespread across the current student population. Thus, we have a broader spectrum of students taking the test than we did 30+ year ago.

For example, (I don’t know exact numbers, but…) the percentage of students taking the test today for whom English is not their native language is significantly higher than it was 30+ years ago. These kinds of demographic changes do make a difference over long spans of time.

3) On a more critical note, since the concept of mainstreaming, have scores gone up, down or remained the same?

Generally, mainstreaming (if by this you mean mainstreaming of students with disabilities) does not affect aggregate cohort data. Students who take the SAT with special accommodations are not included in the national cohort reports.

4) Boys versus girls? Do we still have that gap?

Yes. Girls still lag behind boys in math by 34 points. However, this is the smallest gap between boys and girls since 1967. In reading, girls held a slight edge over boys in the early 1970s, but generally boys also outperform girls here as well, though by only around 10 points. On the new writing section, girls outperform boys by 11 points.

5) I run the risk of being politically incorrect, but do we still have racial/ethnic differences in groups?

Yes. White and Asian students outperform other groups by a wide margin. Black and African-American students score on average over 300 points lower than Asian students and 290 points lower than White students. There is no reason not to ask this question, by the way; score gaps between minority students and white students are important everywhere in education, since such gaps reflect important inequities in educational quality for different students, something that NCLB and other educational policies have tried to change.

6) Are kids watching more and more television, playing more and more video games, and does this have any influence on scores?

Many factors influence how SAT scores change, so it is difficult to say if the way students spend their free time affects scores. Changes in educational policy, matriculation patterns at the post-secondary level, and the SAT itself all play a role.

7) Since No Child Left Behind Legislation, has there been any change?

Same as above — it is hard to say what, if any, affect NCLB has had on SAT scores at this time. One should expect any affects from this legislation to be gradual in any case.

8) We seem to be educating more and more children with various “exceptionalities”? Do you think this has affected the mean or average score?

See answer above to #3.

9) Are you getting more and more requests for accommodations from various students with exceptionalities? What documentation has to be provided? Who reviews these requests and the documents?

Over the past 10 years or so, there has been a notable increase in the percentage of test takers who take the test with accommodations, which reflects overall the greater number of students who are diagnosed with various learning disabilities. Since accommmodated test scores stopped being flagged on score reports a few years ago, the number jumped again. The College Board changed its policies regarding accommodations, essentially raising the bar higher, since it felt too many students were gaining an unfair advantage in getting accommodations they did not deserve. For example, students who did not receive any LD accommodations for their regular school work used to be able to get accommodations on the SAT — basically, if you could find a doctor to sign the right forms, you got extra time.

Now, students who do not have an established history of some sort of IEP or other accommodation in school are very unlikely to receive accommodations on the SAT. I even know of students who are on IEPs in school but were denied SAT accommodations.

Christine Parker, Ph.D.

The Princeton Review
Speaker Bio

Christine Parker is Executive Director of High School Program Development for The Princeton Review, where she has worked since 1994 helping hundreds of students improve their scores on college admissions tests and successfully wend their way through the labyrinthine process known as “applying to college”.

n her current position, she oversees all of The Princeton Review’s high school courses, including training teachers and consulting on ome of The Princeton Review’s best-selling test preparation books or the major college admissions tests, such as Cracking the SAT and 1 Practice Tests for the SAT and PSAT.

She steadfastly believes that no test can tell students who they are, what they can do, or who they will become, but that every test is an opportunity for learning and growth. She also holds a Ph.D. in Education from The Ohio State University, which helps her contextualize the current mania surrounding standardized testing and train teachers to serve the student, not the test. In her spare time, she really does like to write SAT and ACT questions because she really is that big of a geek. Contact her at: ChristineP@review.com

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.