Wednesday, August 30, 2006

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.

It's important, of course, not to read too much into what may prove to be a one-year blip. The scores announced yesterday for the high school class of 2006 are the first since the College Board revamped the SAT, taking out the analogies that defined the test for generations of previous students, increasing the reading portion and adding a writing exam. Reading and math scores both dropped, to an average national score of 1021 out of 1600. The annual drop in critical reading scores, from 508 to 503, was the largest in 31 years.

College Board officials played down the change, insisted there is nothing wrong with the new test and attributed the results to fewer students retaking the test to try to boost their scores. They may be right, but they need to be less defensive and more open to other possible explanations. Their flat-out rejection of student fatigue as a possible factor stemming from the lengthened test runs counter to the real-life experiences of many students and teachers. The board, which suffered some damage to its image with scoring errors last year, should make good on its promise to share its research with others and to consider such ideas as breaking up the test.

On the other hand, the board says students aren't being taught grammar and composition as much as in the past. Anyone concerned with education, national competitiveness and the prospects for the next generation should also take to heart the board's worry: that high school students' skills aren't moving in the right direction.

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