Why You Shouldn’t Compare This Year’s Idaho SAT Scores To Previous Years'

Jun 14, 2016

This year’s SAT results are out and Idaho high school juniors averaged 1002. If you’re bringing up what you know about SAT scores, maybe trying to remember your own, you may be thinking that’s pretty bad. And last year, when the total possible was 2,400, it would have been. But this is the first year of some big changes to the test and the scoring system. Now, the total possible score is 1,600.

It was 2012 when Idaho started paying for almost all high school juniors to take the widely-used college entrance exam. At the time the State Department of Education was adamant that scores could not be compared to any previous years because before that, very few Idaho kids took the test. But, the department said, after a few years, scores from year to year could be used as an indication of how schools were doing.

Now education department spokesman Jeff Church says, they have to start over with 2016.

“The comparison of the old SAT results to the new SAT is apples to oranges to a certain degree, so we will be focusing on these new results and establishing a new benchmark moving forward,” Church says.

The College Board, the company that offers the exam, has created an online score converter to show what new scores may have looked like in the past. But Church says it’s just an approximation.

Church says statewide SAT scores are useful in measuring how Idaho schools are doing, but he cautions that they are only one tool and should not be over-emphasized.

“Using the test scores as the sole basis for decision making is certainly not an appropriate use of the SAT results and something that should be avoided,” Church says.

Plus, he says, it’s important to remember that the main purpose of the test is helping individual students prepare for college--not as a statewide diagnostic.

“The results from the SAT can certainly support and help facilitate conversations at the state level for policy-making decisions, but I think the importance really lies in the results for the SAT at the school, parent, teacher and student level,” Church says.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation has used previous Idaho SAT scores in an ad campaign to make the claim that four-fifths of Idaho students are not ready for life after high school. Several large school districts have criticized the foundation for that.

The claim is based on the College Board’s college readiness benchmark. Previously the company said if a student scored more than 1,550, she was likely to do well in college. The new benchmark is 1010 but the company has also changed how it defines college readiness. This year, a third of Idaho students reached the benchmark rather than a fifth. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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