The interwebs appear to be all aflutter about SAT results this week. That’s because the College Board just released the class of 2016’s results and generally the class of 2016 did worse on the SAT than did the class of 2015. There are potential explanations that have nothing to do with academic capability: changes in the test, resulting in changes in the demographics of test-takers. Which is to say, students who knew a lot was at stake– and thus likely had a higher investment in test prep– in these tests gravitated towards the ACT last year because of lack of certainty around the new SAT. Indeed, while mean SAT scores were down nationally and in most states, 22 states showed increases in ACT Composite scores while 8 held steady. And as more states and school districts offer one or the other test free and on a school day (versus paid and on a Saturday), a broader spectrum of students including those who are not college-bound take the tests, which should result in lower mean scores.
What does all this mean? Most importantly, it means you should not lower your expectations for your own student based on statewide or national test results. Great results on the SAT and ACT are probably the best tools available to increase merit awards, so use every available tool to prepare for them. (That means sophomores should be taking the PSAT this fall too.) It probably also means your student will have more opportunities to take both tests, and probably at lower cost.
In case you’re wondering why the SAT and ACT are now being offered free and during the school day, just a reminder that college is a business: Each wants to be the most popular college entrance test, even if that means providing the test for free under a state contract. I’d love to think it’s a noble effort to encourage more students to look at and prepare for college, but there’s too much data showing that’s not the real objective.