Stagnant, Falling College Admissions Test Scores Reflect NCLB Failure

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, November 2009

Declining score averages on the SAT college admissions exam and stagnant results on the rival ACT are the latest indicators that the federal “No Child Left Behind Law” (NCLB) is failing to meet its primary goals. NCLB proponents claimed that mandatory annual testing would improve educational performance, increase readiness for higher education and close racial achievement gaps. But this summer’s annual release of admissions exam scores for high school seniors shows that little or no progress has been made in preparation for college level work or in reducing historic differences in test results among White, African American and Latino students (see charts).


For example, on the SAT, which was taken by slightly more high school students in the Class of 2009 than the ACT:

  • the gap between White and Asian-American students, on the one hand, and historically disadvantaged minority groups, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics, is growing larger;
  • the gender gap between males and females is also expanding, with males increasing their advantage;
  • income gaps have exploded, with the children from the highest earning families scoring 26 points higher than last year while the scores of low-income groups remain flat

High school graduates in the class of 2009 have experienced NCLB’s test-driven approach to “school reform” since they were in fifth grade. Yet, they are not better prepared for college or the workforce, based on ACT or SAT scores. Over the same period, the racial achievement gap has not narrowed. The college admissions testing data confirm recent results from the federal government’s own National Assessment of Educational Progress: NCLB is not effective (see


It is becoming increasingly clear that the nation cannot test its way to better educational quality or equity. The top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates of "No Child Left Behind" and state testing programs must be repealed and replaced with genuine reforms that build school capacity to address student learning needs.