Best and Brightest Pull Higher Grades for Lower SATs

Published December 1, 2000

Though not emphasized by the College Board as much as the “30-year high” in math scores, other data in the latest SAT test score release raise concerns about the state of American education.

Importantly, that more students have higher grades does not mean they are better prepared for college. Moreover, students from religious and independent schools outscored those in public schools, raising additional questions about the performance of the nation’s public school system.

The College Board reported that the percentage of students making higher grades has gone up since 1990 . . . but average SAT scores for these top-of-the-chart students have declined.

For example, while the share of students with A-plus averages rose from 4 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2000, the verbal SAT averages for that group skidded from 622 in 1990 to 610 in 2000. Math averages fell from 631 to 628.

Similarly, the share of students with A averages grew from 11 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2000. But verbal SAT scores for that group skidded from 577 to 567 during the decade, while math SAT scores dropped from 585 to 582.

“Incredible,” commented John Stone, an East Tennessee State University professor who moderates the online Education Consumers ClearingHouse. “Is there any wonder why most parents think their kids are doing okay in their local schools?”

The new SAT data also show that students in private and religious schools performed at a higher level than public-school students. Public-school averages of 510 on the math SAT and 501 on the verbal SAT compare with religious-school students’ averages of 523 for math and 529 for verbal. Students at independent schools averaged 566 on the math test and 547 on the verbal.

“The higher private-school scores clearly help lift the national average and may be responsible for as much as one-third of the overall increase in math scores since last year,” stated Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education.

In another indication the College Board may care more about concealing than revealing, its breakdown of scores by type of high school lumps home schools, charter schools, and correspondence schools as “other or unknown,” and does not provide their scores, even though there were 70,643 takers of the SAT in this “other” category–9,000 more than test-takers from the independent schools.

Robert Holland is a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia. His e-mail address is [email protected].