Phi Beta Cons

Grade Deflation

David S. Kahn, the head of a private tutoring company, on why SAT scores are dropping:

The average American receives a pretty mediocre education. The average SAT score drifted down from 1000 in the 1960s to 880 in 1993. Education activists attributed this plummet to cultural factors, a change in the testing pool and other matters. The blame was placed everywhere but on schools. That the quality of education in America declined from the 1960s to the 1990s was hardly noted in debates over the SAT.
And then the test was “recentered.” Thanks to the change in the SAT scale and the change in the kinds of questions that were asked on the test, scores went up and people were able to ignore the fact that most students are not well-educated. Indeed, parents compared their children’s scores with their own and concluded that their children were brilliant. Now ETS has made it a little harder to get away with not knowing your three R’s.
People complain that the SAT is biased and that the bias explains why students don’t do well. That’s true–it is biased. It’s biased against people who aren’t well-educated. The test isn’t causing people to have bad educations, it’s merely reflecting the reality. And if you don’t like your reflection, that doesn’t mean that you should smash the mirror.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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