Standardized Testing Takes Another Hit

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Standardized testing faced another round of bad headlines today, although this time not about the Common Core, the opt-out movement, or Pearson. Rather: SAT scores are the lowest they’ve ever been since the test’s overhaul in 2005.

The mean scores for reading, math, and writing for the Class of 2015 were 495, 511, and 484, respectively—with each category down by about two points from the previous year. The shift is subtle but significant, particularly considering a record number of students took the exam this past round. The latest numbers would mean that fewer than half of SAT-takers met the College Board’s proficiency benchmarks—what might be described as “college and career ready” in edu-speak.

Unsurprisingly, students with the lowest scores continue to be African American, Latino, or Native American, while those with the highest ones are Asian or white. The College Board is rolling out a revamped version of the exam next year.

Then again, fewer and fewer colleges are requiring the SAT for admission. Touting the test-optional trend, Bob Schaeffer, one of standardized testing’s fiercest critics, cited today’s news as more evidence that “test-and-punish policies … have clearly failed to improve college readiness or narrow racial gaps.”

George Washington University is one of the latest institutions to go test-optional—yet another indication that colleges are increasingly sympathetic to all the testing fatigue. Or, as the New America Foundation’s Stephen Burd has suggested, perhaps they’re increasingly taking advantage of it.

Regardless, one thing’s for certain: Standardized testing and bad headlines go hand in hand these days.

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