Virginia Students Buck National SAT Decline


It turns out that the improved ACT college-readiness test scores I wrote about last week were not a fluke. Scores for the SAT, another college-readiness test, came in slightly improved for Virginia high school students this year, bucking a downward trend nationally.

Said Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples in a press release today: “The performance of Virginia students on the SAT during the last five years provides additional evidence that the efforts of teachers and other educators to help students meet Virginia’s high expectations are producing real gains in learning and achievement.”

Also encouraging was that Virginians’ stronger-than-average performance extended to all racial/ethnic groups. Virginian Asians out-performed Asians nationally (except in math); likewise, whites, blacks and Hispanics consistently out-performed their racial/ethnic peers, as seen in this chart:


What’s remarkable about this chart is the degree to which Virginia Hispanics out-performed their national peers — by 122 point across all three tests. That compares to blacks who racked up 27 more points, whites with 22 points and Asians with 18 points. That is a huge difference. The difference cannot be attributed to the fact that Hispanics live disproportionately in Northern Virginia, which tends to have better schools. The same could be said of Asians. I’m guessing that Virginia Hispanics have a different socio-economic profile than Hispanics nationally.

The racial/ethnic divide remains as before: Asians are the top performers, followed by whites, Hispanics and blacks in that order.


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  1. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    If Virginia led the nation in the percentage of high school attendees that took these tests, I’d say terrific. Unless things have changed a lot, only the best & the brightest take these and Virginia’s participation rate has been one of the lowest.

    1. Perhaps that’s so. But has the participation rate between Virginia and national SAT takers widened in the past five years? If so, we may have an explanation for why SAT scores are improving. If not, it’s possible that schools deserve the credit.

  2. It is encouraging to see improvements in scores in Virginia. However data can be interpreted in many ways. The issue raises a number of questions:

    1. Were the Virginia students actually better educated or were they educated to score higher on the tests? With so much pressure on school administrators and teachers to meet SOL and other test score metrics, much of the focus in schools these days is related to scoring well on standard tests. Do these tests actually measure whether someone is well educated, or do they simply measure someone’s ability to regurgitate facts?

    This is one of the critiques against the students in China and Japan. They far outperform U.S. students (although they tend to be from a more carefully selected pool of students), but in the workplace they are often criticized for not being able to deal with novel situations where their “fact” knowledge must be synthesized with creativity to solve problems and create new solutions.

    2. What do the numbers really indicate? SAT scores are re-normalized every few years, so long term comparisons are difficult to make. For example, what was an average score 40 years ago, might be equivalent to a score that is 100 points higher today. Because we are drawing from a much larger and more diverse pool of students who take SAT’s today, we have essentially “dumbed down” our standards.

    3. What do the numbers really signify? Numerous studies have shown that there is no correlation between high school GPA’s and SAT scores with success in college. And also no correlation between college GPA’s and success in the workplace. Of course it is easier to make decisions based on numbers. But do our current measurements really lead us to the outcomes we desire?

    4. Why so much emphasis on regurgitating facts as our primary measurement of ability. With the internet, facts are easy to obtain. What we really need are people who can think in novel ways and create superior products and services that haven’t previously existed. It is essential to be able to collaborate as part of a team, yet much of our educational process measures only individual performance (although this seems to be improving).

    5. So much of our emphasis is on creating uniformity (standard tests), specific majors, etc. When what we really need are people who can borrow from other disciplines, cross boundaries and create something new and different. Kids are naturally curious. If we taught classes in the same way that we experience the world – in an integrated fashion where subjects are taught together and students can see how math has value in figuring out everyday problems, for example. Now we have moved from facts to knowledge. Information has context and the added value of experience.

    Our educational system was designed to take people off the farm and prepare them to take orders and provide the consistent reproducible results needed in the factory. Haven’t we gone far past that by now? Or is education’s true purpose to learn to defer to authority and be rewarded for doing what we are told.

  3. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    Some questions to ponder:

    A.) What % of Virginia Hispanic students were ESOL compared to the national average?

    B.) What % of Virginia Hispanic students were first generation Americans compared to the national average?

    I don’t see anything surprising about the state’s numbers as a whole. In the Baliles piece that I posted earlier this summer, he made the point that the Urban Crescent (if it was its own state) would be the 2nd most educated state in America. The “rural horseshoe” would be dead last. As the Urban Crescent has a greater % of the population, it isn’t surprising that Virginia scores above average on college entrance exams.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    the area where US kids don’t do well is in critical thinking and being able to use their education to analyze and solve real world problems that involve contemporary technologies.

    21st century work skills are beyond many US kids. They’re weak on fundamentals. reading comprehension, mathematics as a langue to describe technological concepts and basic science in terms of modern technologies.

    we’re teaching 20th century language and math in a world of drones, self driving cars, autonomous vehicles, big data, and the panoply of our embedded microprocessor world.

    testing is how you measure. You don’t want some guy doing a bypass on you who is not board certified. You don’t want your pilot to not have been tested for her ability to not only fly the aircraft but know what to do when something goes wrong and you don’t want that bridge you go over to be designed by someone with less skills than a certified professional engineer.

    we seem to be bound and determined to argue against education, standards, and testing while the rest of the OECD world – embraces it.

    if you are going to design a tractor that run autonomously using GPS and sensor data – you can’t begin to do that with the kind of education that most kids receive in Virginia with the exception of some schools in Fairfax… Charlottesville, and a few others.

    we are graduating kids – even ones headed to college – who are not equipped to compete for 21st century jobs… and they are reduced to go after lower tier jobs of which there are more folks wanting than there are jobs.

    the absolutely most endangered of jobs is the “gate keeper of data” -jobs that used to be happy hunting for many college grads.

    Now days – a successful job candidate has to be able to something
    that ….software cannot do. If software or a robot can do your job – you’re toast.

    we’re in denial about this.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Before there can be any “higher education” first you have to start with the basics. This little graphic from the folks over at VPAP is very discouraging indeed, and I’m at a loss to understand just why the variation in results is so wide. Play with it for a bit. Look for example at Alleghany, Bath and Highland counties, who are very similar demographically I would think.

    I also did a little digging and found some examples of the third grade reading test. It was hardly a pushover for children who are eight or nine years old, and it really was a reading comprehension test. The questions required them to think about what they had read rather than just regurgitate data. They had to draw conclusions. Then they had to alphabetize a series of words with the same first letter and do some of those word comparisons we remember from the SAT. The bottom line for me is, if a child has only been reading in school and has not been reading on his or her own at home, has never had an adult (other than a teacher) read them something and then quiz them about it, then failure was highly likely. The way communication technology is going, this is going to be a greater and greater struggle. There is pretty strong evidence that a child who cannot read by third grade is facing a long uphill struggle to catch up.

    So whoopee, the SAT scores are up five or six points. The real question is, how can our vaunted public school system produce such disparate results on this test which is NOT voluntary and does reach just about everybody.

    1. Cville Resident Avatar
      Cville Resident

      I’ve come to really view that data with a very jaded lens.

      My suggestion on the SOLs is to view the HS data. The more I read about standardized tests and elementary school kids, the more absurd the whole SOL scheme appears. As you point out, the disparities don’t make a lot of sense in many cases. Which should lead any good statistician to ask questions about validity and reliability.

      Whereas, by HS, kids understand the game and are much more likely to care about the test. Can you even imagine what must go through a 3d grader’s mind? They have no comprehension of what’s going on.

      I’m not really a fan of the HS tests either, mind you. But I tend to think it’s ridiculous to use the SOLs as a benchmark for 3d grade.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: reading comprehension –

        K-3 teachers will tell you that in K-3 – kids learn to read

        and in 4-6 – they read to learn.

        it’s all about reading comprehension – AND the ability to put into your own words – what you have understood from the reading

        re: testing –

        If you don’t like SOLs – there is common core or NAEP or the original tests – the Iowa test –

        you cannot measure a students progress or identify where they need help if you do not test.

        you can’t get a drivers license or get into the military without a test.

        I’m opposed to high stakes testing and favor assessments but if you don’t test then many more kids will fail not school – but life.

  6. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    1.7 million took the SATs in 2015. There were 3.3 million high school seniors.
    More than 712,000 students (41.9% of SAT takers in the class of 2015) met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark.
    •16.1% of African American SAT takers met the benchmark.
    •61.3% of Asian SAT takers met the benchmark.
    •22.7% of Hispanic SAT takers met the benchmark.
    •32.7% of Native American SAT takers met the benchmark.
    •52.8% of white SAT takers met the benchmark.

    1. This is scary data. The disparities in scores understate the actual disparities once you take into account the differential percentages of students who take the tests. Asians out-perform the rest by a larger margin, and blacks and Hispanics under-perform by a larger margin.

      But to address your earlier theory (test scores are improving because a smaller percentage of students are taking the test), we need to compare the 2015 percentage of test takers to the 2010 percentage of test takers. Are a larger or smaller percentage of Virginian high schoolers taking the SAT tests than five years ago?

    2. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      I note that is college AND CAREER readiness. The reading and math skills necessary for success in college are just as necessary for many, many of the higher paying skilled jobs that do not require a BA or BS. Let alone necessary just to survive in this world. The good old days when you could make a real living without those skills have gone with the wind.

    3. LarrytheG Avatar

      the data is scary indeed – but as Steve Haner points out – take a look at VPAPs 3rd grade reading scores by county

      he’s the map I want to see – black SOL reading scores per SCHOOL in various counties.

      Jim says ” The disparities in scores understate the actual disparities once you take into account the differential percentages of students who take the tests”

      they do – and I’m convinced if you look at a given county that has rich and poor neighborhoods – you’re going to see a striking difference in pass rates – for blacks – that depend on what school they go do.

      I saw some of this in the SOL database tool that HCJ provided last year.

      My guess is that you’re going to find – in the same county – high performing schools and low performing schools – and the disparities in the scores will be readily apparent.

      it’s not rocket science Teachers who have options will not take assignments to the tougher schools… especially in the current environment of assigning blame to teachers..if results are bad. Teachers want to go to where it is easy to teach the kids and they
      don’t have their job threatened by being given a class full of lower performings kids with no help to bring them up.

  7. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    My last post was nationwide data.

    To answer your question, yes, participation rates have risen the past 5 years in Virginia but only to the levels of 2006 & 2007.

    While only half the seniors (nationwide) took the SAT, only 42% of those half are college ready and this doesn’t count the 9% of kids that start high school and then drop out.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    here’s the question – will you find – nowhere in the US, or in Virginia – public schools where blacks excel ?

    not talking about special schools or charters…

    let me give a couple of examples 3rd grade SOL reading pass rate for blacks:

    Lynchburg City Bedford Hills Elementary 03 Black 56.25%
    Lynchburg City Dearington Elementary 03 Black 36.84%
    Lynchburg City Heritage Elementary 03 Black 52.63%
    Lynchburg City Linkhorne Elementary 03 Black 50.00%
    Lynchburg City Paul Munro Elementary 03 Black 62.50%
    Lynchburg City Perrymont Elementary 03 Black 54.55%
    Lynchburg City Robert S. Payne Elementary 03 Black 56.25%
    Lynchburg City Sandusky Elementary 03 Black 36.36%
    Lynchburg City Sheffield Elementary 03 Black 71.43%
    Lynchburg City T.C. Miller Elementary 03 Black 65.00%
    Lynchburg City William M. Bass Elem 03 Black 42.86%

    here’s Henrico

    Henrico County Arthur Ashe Jr. Elementary 03 Black 73.08%
    Henrico County Cashell Donahoe Elementar 03 Black 69.44%
    Henrico County Chamberlayne Elementary 03 Black 50.00%
    Henrico County Charles M. Johnson Elemen 03 Black 53.85%
    Henrico County Dumbarton Elementary 03 Black 63.89%
    Henrico County Elizabeth Holladay Eleme 03 Black 58.82%
    Henrico County Fair Oaks Elementary 03 Black 52.00%
    Henrico County George F. Baker Elementary 03 Black 85.29%
    Henrico County Glen Lea Elementary 03 Black 60.87%
    Henrico County Greenwood Elementary 03 Black 76.47%
    Henrico County Harold Macon Ratcliffe Ele 03 Black 47.06%
    Henrico County Harvie Elementary 03 Black 72.34%
    Henrico County Henry D. Ward Elementary 03 Black 16.67%
    Henrico County Highland Springs Elementa 03 Black 50.00%
    Henrico County Jacob L. Adams Elementary 03 Black 50.00%
    Henrico County Laburnum Elementary 03 Black 57.69%
    Henrico County Lakeside Elementary 03 Black 46.15%
    Henrico County Longdale Elementary 03 Black 76.47%
    Henrico County Maude Trevvett Elementary 03 Black 64.29%
    Henrico County Montrose Elementary 03 Black 46.43%
    Henrico County Ruby F. Carver Elementary 03 Black 60.00%
    Henrico County Seven Pines Elementary 03 Black 75.00%
    Henrico County Skipwith Elementary 03 Black 54.55%
    Henrico County Varina Elementary 03 Black 73.08%

    I left out a dozen or more elementary schools that apparently have no blacks at all – at least no scores reported.

  9. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    I just wanted to point out that several studies have pointed out that high school GPA is a good indicator of college readines and success. The above is from 2007 and there was another in 2014 that got some press.

    The SAT/ACT/SOL/Common Core are all a part of the same spectrum of weird American obsession with trying to standardize everything when it comes to education. I’m not sure why somewhere along the way we decided that teachers who taught the people who put us on the moon (!!!) were no longer trustworthy.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      all the other OECD countries that beat the snot out of us academically and put us in 24th place – all have national curricula and national testing.

      how do you get a good GPA in high school if you are having trouble in the 3rd grade and they don’t know what it is and get help to correct it?

      talk to any k-3 teacher and they will tell you that they depend on Federally-funded Title 1 help… for the kids that are behind… you don’t know who they are if you don’t test.

      we are failing to educate our kids to the levels needed to compete successfully for 21st century jobs and some of us don’t want to know it.

      GPAs are routinely inflated these days… anyhow..

      1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

        Those OECD countries only “beat the snot” out of us when we include poor students in our results. Our kids in the middle class and above are incredibly competitive on an international level. It could be those other countries have more robust social welfare programs that help alleviate the effects of poverty, which enables all children to perform better or it could be the standardization.

        GPAs may or may not be inflated these days – I’ve been hearing this lament since the 80s – but it doesn’t change the fact that studies are showing a correlation between high school GPA and college performance.

        Also, teachers are education professionals – they don’t need a test to tell you who is behind in 3rd grade. And the more experienced among them don’t need any help explaining why. The SOLs aren’t descriptive assessments anyway – they just say student A scored poorly on these metrics, the why is anybody’s guess.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          re: OECD

          is the implication that none of the OECD countries have poor kids to educate? That’s we’re the only country with “poor” kids?

          our best kids ARE competitive – but our low kids are not – and our “best” kids are going to be paying a higher and higher entitlement burden if we do not produce an employable workforce – which is the only real reason to justify taxes for education in the first place.

          experienced teacher have a general idea of where the problem is – but they need specifics to know how to target efficiently and more than that – they can’t do it in same classroom as others who are on grade level.

          those kids are sent out to be tested to find the specific areas then a plan is written and the kid sent to a specialist to get them back to where they need to be.

          This process is usually done by a Title 1 who has a Masters Degree in the areas where kids have deficits. Once the deficits are identified – they stay in the same classroom for the things the are on grade level with then sent out when material they are behind on is given – they get sent out to get targeted help for the areas they are behind in – and when they catch up they go back to normal classroom.

          you cannot do this without finding out what their problems are and then getting them the correct kind of help to get them back on grade level.

          without testing – to identify the specific deficits – the kid falls further behind and if they don’t get up on grade level by 3-4 grade – they are pretty much doomed from that point on – they graduate – yes – but they are not qualified for anything other than the most basic jobs which often don’t pay enough and has to be supplemented with entitlements.

          those entitlements are being paid for by the “good” kids…

          that’s NOT the way that Europe and the rest of the OECD works. Their kids are qualified for non-college technical jobs – and they do it with national curriculums and national testing that helps them provide the education needed to get a job in the 21st century.

          we are screwing around blaming teachers and tests and basically in denial about what we have to do – pretending that as long as we have “good” kids that those kids are not going to end up paying for an every increasing entitlement burden.

          I’m agog at the anti-test sentiment.. it’s crazy. Most of the good jobs in the world – have tests to confirm the applicants have the skills… it’s not like the world is not run by standards – it is.

          1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

            The process for getting an IEP is different and uses a different set of tests than the SOL. When people talk about standardized testing they’re talking about SOLs and SATs, not the tests behind designing a student’s IEP. To conflate the two sets of tests and their purposes is not useful.

            I guess you missed or ignored the part where I said other OECD countries have better social welfare programs than we do to mitigate the effects of poverty on students.

            Also, the latter bit you’re talking about – testing kids and shunting them off to different curricula based on ability – is called tracking and we used to have similar processes in the United States. Unfortunately, we’re too racist to put that in effect in any way that wasn’t detrimental to portions of children so we stopped.

            NONE of which addresses my main point that GPA is a better indicator of college success than the SATs. Which makes sense to anyone who actually knows anything about education since a single test can be thoroughly prepped for, but the skills required to maintain a high GPA across all classes over time isn’t something that can be jiggered.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            the IEP are, in fact, based on the skills that the kid will be tested on – they are not tracked to the SOLS they are targeted to the skills necessary to achieve the standards in the SOLS.

            “tracking” is when you take an entire set of kids and turn them into a single class like a “low” class. that’s wrong. But finding out what each kid has need for and the help to that need is right.

            GPAs are terrible indicators precisely because this is no standard. A
            3.0 in one school district can be a 2.0 in another and vice versa and one district may strictly grade and another inflate.

            the issue is – are there standards so that you can compare apples to apples or are there not standards so you have no idea how they compare?

            the opposition to standards – is ignorant in my view. The world runs on standards. The SAT is a standard. The ACT, AP tests, IB tests, the armed forces entrance test, all manner of certifications and professional occupations are all based on testable standards Airline pilots, Police, Fire, Engineers, Medical – all based on testable standards.

            If GPAs were standardized so that a 3.0 meant 3.0 no matter the school – then Id support them but they don’t.

            and we’re talking about grade school -k-5 – what do you have there to judge whether a child has mastered the material and is competent?

  10. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    Larry, you are right about inflated GPAs.
    As I tabulated the recent SOLs, Lynchburg’s were the 10th worst in the state. As an urban district with black students making up the majority of the membership, their scores are the 4th worst in the state. But then I see that the division passes 97+% of all students. Why I ask? Don’t want to hurt the kid’s morale, we hope they will catch on next year…but they never do. If I say that 73% of all black kids live in a single parent household I am racist. If Dr. Ben Carson says it he’s an “Uncle Tom.” It is no wonder the good teachers don’t want to teach in urban districts.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I don’t think it’s racist to say that if you have data to back it up and it shows that single-parent families white and black exhibit the same issues.

      if you perused my list for Lynchburg and Henrico – you’d see there is as much as 30-40 points in the pass rates for blacks in the SAME SCHOOL DISTRICT. does that mean the higher scoring ones have two parents and the lower ones one parent? Does it follow the same way with the white pass rate?

      but even then – what this means is NOT that these kids cannot be taught, it means they can but it’s harder – it takes more resources – higher skilled teachers and specialists like Title 1.

      It’s damn hard teacher work, it generally does not pay more or reward financially and now there is a threat that such teachers will be targeted as deficient – and for a teacher – that’s the kiss of death for his/her career – no school in that district wants them after they’re tagged as under-performing.

      So new teachers right out of college get assigned… because that’s the only job offered. They take it , but once hired, work to transfer.

      no one wants these kids… not the teachers and not the school systems.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    I shouldn’t say no one. Some schools have demonstrated they know how to teach these kids… they got the recipe…

  12. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    Of course, you read stories like this:

    And it makes my point about whether these tests mean anything at all. If you can go from one of the worst to a top 10 performance in the state in 2 years….that doesn’t say a lot about SOL validity or effectiveness.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      there are many ways to assess the knowledge and ability of kids relative to what they have learned…

      and you cannot begin to be able to address the areas when they need more time on task – if you refuse to use any means to measure their level.

      the point here is that you have to measure if you want the kids to succeed, grow up, compete successfully for jobs and not need entitlements.

  13. LarrytheG Avatar

    here’s the best schools in Va for Black economically disadvantaged Grade 3 reading SOL scores:

    Chesterfield County Bellwood Element Black Grade 3 100.00%
    Chesterfield County Bensley Elementa Black Grade 3 100.00%
    Newport News City Hilton Elementary Black Grade 3 100.00%
    Prince George County South Elementary Black Grade 3 100.00%
    Chesterfield County Beulah Elementar Black Grade 3 95.00%
    Norfolk City Camp Allen Elementary Black Grade 3 92.86%
    Virginia Beach City Tallwood Element Black Grade 3 92.31%
    Richmond City George W. Carver Elem Black Grade 3 92.11%
    Richmond City Broad Rock Elementa Black Grade 3 92.00%
    King George County King George Elem Black Grade 3 90.91%
    Prince William County Martin Luther Kin Black Grade 3 90.00%
    Prince George County L.L. Beazley Eleme Black Grade 3 88.89%
    Roanoke City Monterey Elementary Black Grade 3 88.89%
    Charles City County Charles City Coun Black Grade 3 88.24%
    Prince William County Mary Williams El Black Grade 3 87.50%
    Prince William County River Oaks Eleme Black Grade 3 87.50%
    Northumberland County Northumberl Black Grade 3 87.10%
    Dinwiddie County Sutherland Eleme Black Grade 3 86.21%
    Pittsylvania County Mount Airy Eleme Black Grade 3 85.71%
    Pittsylvania County Southside Elemen Black Grade 3 85.71%

    now the thing is – I bet even HCJ would be hard pressed to make the case that all these schools are teaching only two-parent family kids.

    these schools PROVE that these kids CAN be WELL educated!

    no excuses about one parent families and “genes”

  14. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    I bet even HCJ would be hard pressed to make the case that all these schools are teaching only two-parent family kids.

    Of course not, never said it was but in the universe of statistics that covers ALL, black children from single parent households have health, behavior and education problems at rates far higher than children from 2 parent households. Why do you have to be such a ???

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: ” … black children from single parent households have health, behavior and education problems at rates far higher than children from 2 parent households. Why do you have to be such a ???”

      did you actually mean to say “black”… instead of ALL KIDS with single parent…??

      perhaps I misunderstood…

      did I? If I did – I apologize.

      if I did not, perhaps you can explain.

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