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What's Behind the SAT Reading-Score Drop?

Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss takes issue with the College Board's explanation that the decline in the SAT reading scores this past year was caused largely by an increase in the number and diversity of test-takers. She puts the blame squarely on the effects of recent education policy:

After all, we've had a decade of standardized test-based school reform under the No Child Left Behind law that educators warned was narrowing curriculum and turning too many classrooms into test prep factories rather than places of real learning. Meanwhile, issues facing the rising number of English language learners and children living in poverty have been given short policy shrift.

A Wall Street Journal article quotes Kent Williams, executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, to similar effect:

In many schools, especially those most impoverished, reading programs are not about building cognitive abilities or a love of reading. They are built around rote learning of language, and I think we are seeing the results of that.

Adding a slightly different twist, the Core Knowledge Foundation points to rampant "anti-intellectualism" in teacher-training programs and a concomittant "retreat from a knowledge-based elementary curriculum" as root causes.

An Associated Press story, meanwhile, raises a salient point on the test-taker diversity link:

[T]he relatively poor performance on the SATs could raise questions [about] whether reading and writing instruction need even more emphasis to accommodate the country's changing demographics.

One potential factor we haven't seen mentioned, however, is the question of whether kids today—perhaps especially kids who are on the college-going cusp—just aren't doing enough quality independent reading. A much-talked-about National Endowment for the Arts report from 2004 warned about a general decline in literary reading among young adults. More anecdotally, the widely respected author and English teacher Kelly Gallagher recently told us he has seen a "very large change" in kids' reading habits in his 25 years in the classroom, particularly in the past 10 years: "Students are reading a lot less."

That would probably have an impact. ...

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