Call for More Rigor after Alarming SAT Scores an Unlikely Solution
A few days ago the College Board released the SAT Report on College and Career Readiness: 2012. It makes for some interesting reading. The big news, as touted in their press release, was that only 43% of college-bound seniors are ready for college. That’s right; well under half of our students who want to the go to college are prepared, and the worst part of the news has to do with reading. Reading scores this year were lower than at any point since 1972. College Board president Gaston Caperton said, “This report should serve as a call to action to expand access to rigor for more students. Our nation’s future depends on the strength of our education system. When less than half of kids who want to go to college are prepared to do so, that system is failing. We must make education a national priority and deliver rigor to more students.” Much of the report is devoted to demonstrating the connections between AP and Honors level coursework and stronger performance on the test, while other sections assert the validity of the test (along with GPA) as a predictor of success in college. The report also shows stronger performance on the test by students who completed a core curriculum than by those who did not. But one might be left wondering about the nature of these relationships. Are AP and honors courses designed to “teach to the test”? And are other shared factors among those students who do well on the test, such as wealth and the human and social capital associated with wealth more important in determining college success than completing “rigorous” coursework? The theory seems to be that low socioeconomic status students have less access to rigorous coursework and therefore perform more poorly on the SAT and subsequently have lower rates of college completion.
It may however very well be that this relationship is coincidental rather than causative. Lower academic performance by low socioeconomic status students is well documented though the causes are complex. Interestingly this correlation is stronger in the US than in many other countries as documented in the PISA report. Among public policy analysts the trend in recent years has been to shift away from examining material causes toward studying psychological factors. As described in this fascinating article in the New York Times, research has made it clearer that psychological factors are more influential than material or even intellectual progress. One example considered is the Knowledge is Power Program. KIPP schools are considered among the very best college prep schools for disadvantaged kids. However, in their first survey KIPP discovered that three-quarters of its graduates were not completing college, and it wasn’t the students with the lowest grades. Rather it was the least resilient who were dropping out. As we have written about in other posts at LearningDiversity.org, resilience and motivation are more important to future success than grades or test results. In this light it seems unlikely that Caperton’s call for more rigorous coursework is alone likely to result in real gains.