SAT Scores Hit Four-Decade Low

Erich Schlegel/Corbis / APImages
Erich Schlegel/Corbis / APImages

Graduating high school students’ SAT college admission scores fell again this year–to the lowest level in four decades. Rapidly growing expenditure on education seems to be producing poor test results.

A record 1.7 million graduating seniors took the SAT test last year. With a highest possible score this year of 800 on each SAT section, according to the College Board, students scored a worst since 1999 math score of 511, worst since 1972 reading score of 495, and worst writing score since the section was added in 2005.

Government education spending as a percent of national gross domestic product on kindergarten through 12th grade jumped from about 2 percent in the 1950s to 3.9 percent in the 1970s. Spending hit 4 percent in the 2000s and popped up to 4.4 percent of GDP early in President Obama’s administration.

The most recent Census Bureau data reveals that of the $3.2 trillion in total expenditures by state and local governments in 2012, public education accounted for the highest percent at nearly 28 percent, or $869.2 billion.

California is home to what appears to be the most wasteful K-12 spenders. According to a WalletHub study of America’s 90 largest cities, 11 of California’s 16 most-populated cities score in the bottom 25 of U.S. cities on standard tests.

The worst performing cities have in common the very high percentages of households where English is not spoken as a first language. Research shows that the language barrier can have a disastrous effect on learning outcomes.

California, with the largest number of students, tops the English Learners category at 1,413,549. This constitutes about 22.7 percent of the total enrollment in state public schools. A total of 2,685,793 students speak a language other than English in their homes, a number that represents about 43.1 percent of the state’s public school enrollment, with 87 percent Spanish speakers.

The 73 percent majority of English learners are enrolled in the elementary kindergarten through grade six. About 27 percent are enrolled in the secondary grades, seven through twelve.

This seems to indicate that SAT scores will continue to decline as more students who do not speak English in the home pass through high school.

Former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation implemented in the 2000s amounted to an attempt to put a stop to unproductive spending by failing school districts. The measure required schools to meet certain performance criteria or risk being taken over or shut down, among other sanctions. The idea was that further accountability would lead to higher achievement.

Although the rapid descent of SAT scores slowed during the Bush years, the Obama administration issued waivers and refused to enforce the No Child penalties. Since his inauguration, SAT scores have plummeted.


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