Reading the Numbers

Just about every news organization is reporting that average scores on the SAT, that sacred rite of passage for college bound students, are at their highest levels in many years. There are plenty of experts who can tell you why the increase occurred, including the president of the College Board (the folks who sell the SAT) who thinks high-tech toys may have something to do with it.

Although there is no data to support it, College Board President Gaston Caperton believes high-tech toys that introduce young children to math and the computer programs that later help them to retain their interest in the subject have also helped boost math scores.

Of course the promoters of high stakes standardized testing want to take credit for the increase. However, the Christian Science Monitor points out that those multiple choice tests may not be responsible for the increases on this multiple choice test.

Yet the states that were poster children for this new approach, Texas and Florida, register only modest, single-digit gains, whereas some states that do not emphasize high stakes tests show gains in the double digits. "Texas and Florida have been treading water for years, while states like Vermont are moving ahead much faster than the national average," says Bob Schaeffer, director of the National Center for Fair & Open testing (FairTest), a national advocacy group that is opposed to high-stakes testing. "It undermines the claim that high-stakes tests improve overall education quality."

There will be plenty of expert talking heads making the rounds this week to analyze this news item. I’m not an expert but I’d still like to toss in my own twist. Is it possible that the students who took these tests were better prepared by their teachers? Is it possible that American teachers are better than W and his friends are telling the news cameras?