Americans' SAT Scores had to be re-centered in 1995 because of a 15-year decline in the 1960s and 70s that everyone seems to have forgotten about, as far as I can tell.

The "center" was no longer 500 by 1995, so they moved it.

In other words, a student who receives a score of 680 on the Critical Reading in 2011 would have scored a 610 had they taken the test prior to 1995.

It's like going into the Gap thinking you're a size 8 but discovering that you fit into a size 4. You didn't suddenly lose weight; they made the sizes bigger!

So what happened?  Is the test harder today? Are kids less well educated than they used to be?  And what is the SAT testing anyway?

There's a fascinating conversation in the comments of this post on Kitchen Table Math about whether or not our schools are properly preparing students for the SAT. The College Board says a "rigorous curriculum" is the best way to prepare for the test.

One commenter thinks the test was easy, and wonders whether it's changed:

I have to ask this question again - when did the SAT (and PSAT) get so hard? I took the PSAT without even knowing what it was about, and ended up a National Merit Scholar based on that score. I took the SAT as a senior and had a 720 on the math (780 verbal) with no test prep. My husband made that magic 800 mark, again, no test prep. We both went to really bad high schools that taught significantly less that the schools teach today. This was in the late 70's. Did something happen to the SATs? I need to know because I had just assumed my kids would do fine on it, as I did.

Experienced tutor and author of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar, Erica Meltzer chimes in:

I have the impression that the overall level has stayed pretty stable for quite a while.

The College Board believes that the SAT tests "the skills you're learning in school: reading, writing and math."

Six months into this Perfect Score Project, I'd say the SAT tests, in a very deep and sophistocated manner: vocabulary, grammar, an ability to critically read with precision, sensitivity and depth. It tests basic math skills, but more than that, it tests your ability to know math so well that you can be flexible with the knowledge and use it in all sorts of unfamiliar contexts.

For more in depth perspectives on what the SAT is really testing, I suggest reading these posts: PWNtheSAT and Erica Meltzer.

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

About the Authors

Catherine Johnson Ph.D.
Catherine Johnson, Ph.D. is an "afterschooling" parent and co-author of Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.

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