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Rigorous Classes Help on SAT, But Writing Needs Work

The tougher the classes you take in high school, the better you are likely to do on the SAT.

Findings released today by the College Board showed that students in the class of 2010 who took a core curriculum—defined as four or more years of English, three or more years of math, three or more years of natural science, and three or more years of social science and history—scored, on average, 151 points higher on the SAT than those who did not.

"Students who take rigorous courses perform better on the SAT and perform better in college and beyond," said Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of College Connection & Success of the College Board, in a press conference today. "There are no shortcuts, tricks or ways to cram for the SAT. Not surprisingly, students who are the most academically prepared for college are the very ones who achieve the greatest success on the SAT."

However, simply taking a set of classes in a core curriculum does not guarantee mastery of a subject matter, he added. The rigor of those classes varies widely across high schools. The College Board has been involved in crafting the Common Core State Standards Initiative in an effort to better align curriculum and prepare students for college said Bunin. "It is vital that we establish common college- and career-readiness standards in English/language arts and mathematics that are evidence-based and internationally benchmarked," Bunin said.

The report today also showed that students who took honors or AP courses performed better on the SAT. The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test helps students and educators identify students' academic strengths and weaknesses earlier in the high school, said Bunin. The results show on average that those who took the PSAT/NMSQT had a combined score 146 points higher on average than students who did not take the test.

Overall scores on the SAT this year remained flat, with a slight increase in math performance, while reading and writing scores were stable.

Looking back over the past few years, however, a clear dip in writing skills is apparent. The writing section of the SAT was first introduced in 2005. In 2006 when the first writing scores were available, the average score was 497. Today it is 492. Writing also is the most predictive section of the SAT, added Bunin.

"Writing is an important part of college success and is critical to just about every job and career field," he said. It is a proficiency that educators recognize as an important 21st-century skill, Bunin said. "Developing these skills is critical to both college and career readiness, which is why this downward trend needs to be reversed. Writing needs to be a higher priority in secondary and K-12 education."

After a decade of education reform and flat SAT scores, does that mean No Child Left Behind been a failure? "It certainly hasn't accomplished what we must accomplish. We don't have enough students going to college," said College Board President Gaston Caperton. "We have to add a lot more rigor. Kids have to work harder. They have to be more engaged and committed. It's a great problem in this country. It's something we all have to work on."

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