Using Aggregate Scores 2001

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Cautions on the use of aggregate SAT scores*

As measures of developed verbal and mathematical abilities important for success in college, SAT scores are useful in making decisions about individual students and assessing their academic preparation. Using these scores in aggregate form as a single measure to rank or rate teachers, educational institutions, districts, or states is invalid because it does not include all students. In being incomplete, this use is inherently unfair.

The most significant factor in interpreting SAT scores is the proportion of eligible students taking the exam-the participation rate. In general, the higher the percentage of students taking the test, the lower the average scores. In some states, a very small percentage of college-bound seniors take the SAT. Typically, these students have strong academic backgrounds and are applicants to the nation's most selective colleges and scholarship programs. Therefore, it is to be expected that the SAT verbal and mathematical averages reported for these states will be higher than the national average. In states where a greater proportion of students with a wide range of academic backgrounds take the SAT, and where most colleges in the state require the test for admission, the scores are closer to the national average. Thus, to make useful comparisons of students' performance between states, a common test given to all students would be required. Because the percentage of SAT takers varies widely among the states, and because the test-takers are self-selected, the SAT is inappropriate for this purpose.

In looking at average SAT scores, the user must understand the context in which the particular test scores were earned. Other factors variously related to performance on the SAT include academic courses studied in high school, family background and education of parents. These factors and others of less tangible nature could very well have a significant influence on average scores. This is not to say, however, that scores cannot be used properly as one indicator of educational quality. Average scores analyzed from a number of years can reveal trends in the academic preparation of students who take the test and can provide individual states and schools with a means of self-evaluation and self-comparison.

By studying other indicators-such as retention/attrition rates, graduation rates, number of courses taken in academic subjects, or scores on other standardized tests-one can evaluate the general direction in which education in a particular jurisdiction is headed. A careful examination of other conditions impinging on the educational enterprise, such as pupil-teacher ratios, teacher credentials, expenditures per student and minority enrollment, is also important.

Summaries of scores and other information by state, college, or school district can be used in curriculum development, faculty staffing, financial aid assessment, planning for physical facilities and student services such as guidance and placement. Aggregate data can also be useful to state, regional and national education policymakers, especially in tracking changes during a period of time.

*Excerpted from Guidelines on the Uses of College Board Test Scores and Related Data. Copyright © 1988 by College Entrance Examination Board. All rights reserved.

 

A word about comparing states and schools

The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other nonschool factors can have a strong effect on scores. If ranked, schools and states that encourage students to apply to college may be penalized because scores tend to decline with a rise in percentage of test-takers. To illustrate the effect of that percentage, Table 3 lists states in order of participation.

Forty-five percent of this year's 2.85 million high school graduates took the SAT, and more than 80 percent of four-year colleges and universities use its scores in admission, a rate that rises to 88 percent for institutions without open admission policies. As a group, this year's population of 1,276,320 SAT takers nearly equals the number of freshmen entering four-year colleges.

 

How should colleges and universities use SAT scores in admission?

SAT scores can make a significant contribution to admissions decisions when colleges, universities and systems of higher education use them properly. To advise these institutions on the proper use of SAT scores, Guidelines on the Uses of College Board Test Scores and Related Data (1988) indicates that each institution should:

  • Ensure that its staff knows enough about the SAT and its data to ensure that it uses them properly and understands their limitations
  • Consider SAT scores as approximate indicators rather than as fixed and exact measures of a student's readiness for college-level work
  • Use SAT scores and their related data in conjunction with other indicators, such as secondary school grades and course work, to predict an applicant's chances for success at a specific college
  • Validate its admission criteria and conduct appropriate studies periodically to ensure that they are still relevant
  • Not use small differences in SAT scores as the basis for rejecting an otherwise qualified applicant

 

How prevalent are changes in school and district SAT I scores?

This table shows that most changes in mean SAT I scores are not unusual. Based on schools and districts in which at least 50 college-bound seniors took the SAT, it shows the percentage of schools and districts whose mean scores rose or fell at least 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 points by the size of their test-taking populations (50 to 99, 100 to 299 and 300+ test-takers) and across all schools and districts. Low-volume schools and districts tend to have larger changes. For example, 59 percent of schools and districts with 50 to 99 test-takers saw their SAT verbal means rise or fall 10 or more points, well above the 32 percent of schools and districts with 300 or more test-takers.

 

Percentage of schools and districts whose SAT scores rose or fell in 2000-2001

 

Score rose or fell at least this many points

Percentage of schools and districts with this much score change, by number of test-takers

Percent of all schools and districts with this much score change

50-99

100-299

300+

SAT Verbal

10

59%

45%

32%

49%

20

27

13

5

17

30

11

2

0

5

40

4

0

0

2

50

1

0

0

0

SAT Math

10

60%

46%

31%

50%

20

29

14

5

19

30

11

3

0

6

40

4

0

0

2

50

1

0

0

0