Latest SAT, ACT Results Flat

K-12 Testing

Minor score changes on the SAT and ACT exams by this year’s high school graduates again demonstrate the failure of the test-and-punish approach to meaningfully improve the quality of U.S. public schools (see story, p.1). Though many states have claimed to “raise the bar” by imposing high school graduation testing, the enhanced readiness for higher education they promised the exams would induce is not apparent on the nation’s two major college entrance exams.

The average ACT Composite score remained at the same level as in 2004. SAT Verbal scores were also unchanged from last year; the Math average rose by two points. This year’s high school graduates were the final group to take the two-part SAT. Next year’s scores will reflect the addition of the so-called “Writing” test (see Examiner, Spring 2005, Fall 2004).

These generally flat results indicate that soaring high school exit exam passing percentages reported by many states likely reflect ‘teaching to the test,’ not better preparation for college. Among the 23 states where a majority of high school graduates take the SAT, the worst ten-year SAT score trend belongs to Texas, the national model for top-down testing mandates under former Governor and now President George Bush. In fact, Texas is the only SAT-dominant state where average college admissions test scores actually declined over the past decade, dropping one point compared with a national average increase of 18 points on the combined Verbal plus Math scale. The state with the second worst ten-year SAT record is Florida, where average scores increased by only three points since 1995, despite a Texas-like testing program aggressively pursued by the President’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush.

These results are consistent with previous research, which found that states without graduation tests posted stronger gains on the SAT and ACT than those that required exit exams (see Examiner, Spring 2002). The poor performances in Florida and Texas are not explained by changes in the proportion of high school graduates taking the test in those two states, which have grown in parallel with national trends.

More than half the states now require students to pass a test before they can be awarded a high school diploma. SAT and ACT scores undermine the claim that imposing graduation exams would ‘raise the bar’ for educational quality.

Recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data confirm this pattern. NAEP scores for 17-year-olds declined overall and in most racial groups were flat, even though many students are from states with mandatory graduation tests. NAEP, SAT and ACT results also show that race and income score differences are not being appreciably narrowed by the fixation on high-stakes tests. For example, the Black-White SAT score gap has actually increased over the past decade by six points each on the Verbal and Math tests.

2005 SAT Results

2005 ACT Results