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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 2, 2006

Avoid blame game on lower SAT scores

Why are the results from the newly revised SAT test so low?

Is the test:

a) Too long at three hours and 45 minutes.

b) Too new.

c) None of the above.

School officials in Hawai'i, as well as educators and test administrators around the country, are puzzling over this question as if they were taking a post-mortem SAT exam.

But instead of playing the blame game and pointing No. 2 pencils at a culprit, it may be more productive to accept the test for what it is and make sure students are as prepared as they can be the next time.

In Hawai'i, admittedly, there's reason for some concern. After years of stable scores, the test change brought a rather noticeable drop in results: Average math scores here went from 516 to 508. The critical reading score went from 490 to 482.

The drops here were more significant than the nationwide average, where the math score dropped two points to 518 and the reading score dropped five points to 503. SAT administrators say the drop may be because fewer people took the test, including fewer repeat test takers who tend to inflate the average.

Hawai'i's scores may be lower for other reasons. The number of non-native speakers may have had an impact on a test that was changed to be a more rigorous assessment of reading and writing skills. Those changes should be seen not as unreasonable, but rather as an attempt to raise national standards. Our schools should be up to that challenge.

The DOE says it will examine the slide in SAT scores and see what curriculum adjustments should be made. The department will also take money set aside by the Legislature to give the Preliminary SAT a year earlier, in the 10th grade. That should help students become more familiar with the exam.

But let's not leave it all to the schools. Parents, too, must accept some responsibility. Simple things, from reading with your child to picking up an SAT prep book to getting adequate sleep the night before, all can help scores. To be sure, instilling a love for reading will help students beyond any battery of tests and offer more lasting enrichment and perhaps help many become lifelong learners. And that's truly what matters most.