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Ybarra celebrates dismal SAT scores

Ybarra celebrates dismal SAT scores

Kaitlyn Shepherd
August 28, 2022

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra touted students’ dismal 2022 SAT scores as a success, but the data show that the scores are nothing to celebrate. Nearly half of test takers failed to meet the reading benchmark, and 69% failed to meet the math benchmark.

A July 26 press release by Ybarra and the State Department of Education (SDE) states, “The percentage of Idaho students who met SAT benchmarks this spring held steady from last year’s scores in math and in writing, while the share of students who met both benchmarks dipped slightly.”

Although the percentages of students who met the math and evidence-based reading and writing (ERW) benchmarks did not decline from 2021 to 2022, student scores have been steadily declining since 2016.

The percentage of students who met the ERW benchmark has declined from 62% to 53% (a 15% decline) since 2016, while the percentage of students who met the math benchmark has declined from 35% to 31% (a 11% decline) since 2016. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who met neither benchmark increased from 36% to 45% (a 25% increase) over the same time frame.

Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy – a school of choice – students vastly outperformed the statewide percentages. There, about 90% of students met both the math and ERW benchmarks. 

In general, student academic outcomes improve when families choose their school. Studies suggest that students who switch to a private school through a school choice program see academic improvement within an average of three to four years. These students are also more likely to enroll in and graduate from college.

School choice can improve academic outcomes for students who remain in their assigned district schools, too. Prominent school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis explains, “Twenty-five of 28 studies suggest that private school choice competition leads to better outcomes, not worse, in the public schools. School choice doesn’t destroy public schools, it makes them better. School choice is a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

Ybarra says fewer students are prioritizing the SAT because Idaho universities no longer require standardized test scores for admission and the SDE no longer requires taking the SAT or ACT in order to graduate from high school in Idaho.

According to Ybarra, even if students choose to take the SAT and fail to meet both benchmarks, they can still be considered “college ready.” Quoting the College Board, which administers the SAT, the press release states that “college readiness is a continuum — students scoring below the SAT benchmarks can still be successful in college, especially with additional preparation and perseverance.”

Trivializing the importance of standardized tests like the SAT will only hurt students in the long run. Much can be said about the value of hard work, perseverance, and believing in oneself, but Ybarra fails to acknowledge the fact that standardized test scores are one of the best measures for predicting a student’s success in higher education.

A report by the University of California Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force found that “standardized test scores aid in predicting important aspects of student success, including undergraduate grade point average (UGPA), retention, and completion.” Scores can be more indicative of college academic success than a student’s high school GPA. Without such an indicator to match them with peers and a school that fits their level of academic preparedness, students risk wasting time and money on a school or program for which they are not adequately prepared.

The fact that nearly 15,000 of Idaho’s 11th grade students who took the SAT failed to meet either or both reading and math goals is nothing to celebrate. Students must leave high school with the ability to read, write, and calculate effectively so that they are prepared for future academic, personal, and professional success. 

Rather than covering up how the public education system is failing students, Ybarra and the SDE should represent the data honestly. Far too many students are graduating from Idaho’s public schools without being able to read or do math. 

Students deserve better than to be stuck in schools failing to adequately prepare them for future success. Universal school choice would improve public schools through competition and enable every family to choose the educational environment that best suits their child.

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