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What Are SAT Results Telling Us About Our Kids?

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Passing SAT and Doing Well

It’s become a rite of passage for high school seniors— gathering together in big groups on a Saturday morning and taking the SAT test. For students who wish to go on to college, how they score can often have a big impact on which schools will accept them.

Unfortunately, as CBS News reported, the scores that were released by the College Board for the class of 2012 were not particularly outstanding. In fact, last year’s high school graduates had the lowest SAT reading scores since 1972, as well as the poorest scoring ever for the essay portion, which was introduced in 1996.

The Facts

According to the College Board, the average reading score was 496, math was 514 and writing was 488. These were all out of a possible 800 points. Since the College Board estimates that 1,550 points total is the average amount needed to be ready for college, it seems like current high school seniors have a bit of work to do to help boost these numbers.

As for why these numbers are so low, an article from the Marietta Daily Journal included several theories from educators. For example, a record number of students (1.66 million) took the test in 2012. Of these, 27 percent reported being from low-income families, and 28 percent indicated that English was not their first language. In addition, around 33 percent of the high school seniors were from parents who had not gone to college.

The Reasons

Of these proposed reasons, household income seemed to correlate the most to low SAT scores. In general, students from households with an average income of $20,000 or less had the lowest scores. Interestingly, as the income amounts rise, so do the scores. Once the average income reached close to $100,000, students were more likely to achieve the magic number of 1,550.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. Some high school students from lower-income families probably achieved high scores on the SAT, just like seniors from wealthier families may have scored quite low. Plenty of students do well in school, but perform poorly on exams due to test anxiety or other issues.

Although students will often say “when am I even going to use this stuff?” in relation to their schoolwork, the fact remains that basic literacy skills are extremely important. Everyone— from the mechanic who consults a manual to fix an engine, the accountant who is reading up on tax laws and the attorney who needs to read a law brief— needs to be able to read well. The same goes for basic mathematical skills.

What Can We Do?

Parents who wish to help their children succeed at the SATs can try some different approaches. Some have had great success hiring SAT tutors to work with their high school student. Others have purchased practice testing booklets or downloaded tests online that can give seniors the chance to take sample tests at home. Sometimes, just knowing in advance what the test will be like can make taking the real thing a bit easier. And of course, the age-old advice about getting enough rest and eating a good breakfast on test day is still as true as ever.

Another way that high schoolers can do well on their SAT scores is to be enrolled in a school that uses the Common Core curriculum. As an article on EducationNews.org pointed out, the College Board noted a strong link between this intensive.

Let's THANK Susan Moore for this instructive article. Susan is a teacher and freelance writer who lives in California.

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