Yesterday the big education news was that the average scores on the SAT increased to a recent high. On the same day, the Baltimore Sun was also reporting that half the high school students who took practice versions of Maryland’s new end-of-course exams failed. So how do you resolve the fact that high school students in the same state scored both better and worse on standarized tests?

For one thing, two of the four Maryland tests covered Biology and Government, two subjects not even touched on the SAT. Another point to be made is that these tests were being given so the state could evaluate the "cut scores" of the tests, not the students’ knowledge. The cut scores will, of course, be revised so that more students will pass and the politicians who mandated them won’t be emabarrassed. The SAT, on the other hand, is over 40 years old and the scoring system has been tweaked to a profitable hum.

The bottom line is that the numbers on these two tests going in opposite directions means absolutely nothing. The contrast should, however, be a reminder that standardized tests are very poor assessments of student learning. In most cases they measure only the retention of facts – not how well students understand those facts and can make use of them.