Wednesday, August 31, 2005


The scores are out for what many people say is the most prestigious exam in the world, the SAT college admissions test. Nebraska ranks 27th in the nation, even though we had one of the lowest participation rates among the states, and by all rights should have been right up there with the leaders because of that.

Moreover, comparing Nebraska’s SAT score with those of six surrounding states, we come in dead last.

The Cornhusker State’s best and brightest took the SAT. Only 8% of last spring’s graduating class participated, and they tend to rank high in their respective high-school classes. That compares to the national average participation rate per state of 48%. Only eight states had proportionately fewer students take the test than Nebraska.

So, considering the relative quality of the “pool” of test-takers, Nebraska should have posted a much higher score than states with higher participation rates. Since our kids didn’t, it raises questions about the curriculum and instruction for the most able students.

The state’s ranking is still above the national average, though. Average verbal and math tallies for Nebraska students were 1,045 out of a possible 1,800, compared to the national average of 1,026.

The SAT is considered to be more of an aptitude test than a test of curriculum mastery. Nebraska schools have definitely aligned their curriculum with the ACT, based in our neighboring Iowa, and we do better on the ACT test with a national ranking of 14th.

But the SAT is important because it is considered highly accurate for predicting how well students will do in college, particularly on the East and West Coasts. It also reflects the status of many states’ highest echelon of students, since mostly those in the top 10% of their classes take this test in Nebraska and many other Midwestern states. The SAT is much more popular on the East Coast; for example, 87% of New York seniors took the SAT in 2004. But even many of those with much-higher participation rates beat Nebraska’s score.

I’m convinced this is another bit of evidence that Nebraska has gone ‘way too far toward focusing on the bottom quartile of students – the ones with problems – and have been neglecting our brainiacs. This is what we get for doing away with traditional, content-based academics, and switching everything to a “teach to the test” system of Outcome-Based Education, in the 1990s. (Because it was so controversial, the educrats changed the wording from “outcomes” to “standards,” but it’s the same darn thing.)

Wednesday’s Go Big Ed story about education leader Cheri Pierson Yecke, who got rid of standards in the State of Minnesota while she was ed commissioner there and just was appointed chancellor of K-12 ed in the State of Florida, made me nostalgic. A decade ago, she came to Nebraska and spoke to a packed public meeting warning us not to lock ourselves in to the dumbing down of Outcome-Based Education. Our policymakers did it, anyway. Then she spoke before the Nebraska State Board of Education lobbying for an adoption of high-quality outcomes such as the ones Virginia had in place, if we were bound and determined to have standards. Again, our ed leaders pooh-pooh’ed her advice and we’re stuck with so-so standards. Sigh.

And it shows. For comparison purposes, our best and brightest don’t look too hot compared to those in surrounding states who took the SAT. In fact, we come in LAST among the seven heartland states:

State, score, participation rate:
Iowa, 1,195, 5%
Missouri, 1,172, 8%
Kansas, 1,169, 9%
Colorado, 1,107, 27%
Wyoming, 1,097, 12%
South Dakota, 1,091, 5%
Nebraska, 1,045, 8%

For more about the SAT:

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