There has been much discussion about the sharp decline of SAT scores. Some (including its sponsor, the College Board) attribute the decline to an increase in the number of test-takers. Others say that the decline can be attributed by the increased diversity of the test-takers, meaning that when more low-scoring students take the tests, the scores go down.

Carol Burris took the time to review the data and come up with a data-driven discussion of what really happened.

The bottom line, she writes, is that the score decline was large and significant:

SAT scores for the Class of 2015 were the lowest since the test was revised and re-normed in 2005. The score drop in one year was 7 points — a drop that Inside Higher Ed characterized as significant.

She says there was very minimal increase in the number of students taking the tests.

Between 2014 and 2015:

11 states saw an increase in the proportion of seniors who took the SAT.
3 states remained exactly the same.
36 states saw decreases in the percentages of members of the Class of 2015 taking the test when compared with 2014.

What about the assumption that the increase in fee waiver students is responsible for the decline? It implies that a greater proportion of test takers come from low-income households. The increase in fee waivers does not necessarily mean, however, that the percentage of low-income test takers has increased. It could be attributed to more students being encouraged to apply for the waiver. In fact, the percentage of low-income students who are test-takers has been remarkably stable.

The diversity of the test-takers is relatively stable:

Here are the percentages of test takers with family incomes below $20,000 during the past five years: 2011 — 13 percent, 2012 — 14 percent, 2013 — 14 percent, 2014 — 13 percent, 2015 — 14 percent. That same stability runs across all bands of income.

And what of the College Board’s claim that this is “the most diverse group ever”? Time Magazine implied that the increase in fee waiver students and increases in diversity are the cause of the decline.

How much has diversity increased? Since 2011 the percentage of Black or African American students taking the test has been a steady 13 percent every year. There have been small proportional increases in 2 of the 3 categories that describe students who are Hispanic or Latino, but there are also small proportional increases in Asian students and international students whose test scores exceed the average by large amounts. Asian students’ average scores this year were a whooping 164 points above the total average. They are hardly dragging scores down.

And in this year of the big drop, the proportions of Black, Latino/Hispanic and Asian test takers are exactly the same as they were in 2014.

What does the decline mean? What does the College Board advise the schools to do?

Burris writes:

Nearly every article on the topic included the same quote from the chief of assessment of the College Board, Cyndie Schmeiser:

“Simply doing the same things we have been doing is not going to improve these numbers. This is a call to action to do something different to propel more students to readiness.”

Well, riddle me this one: Does Ms. Schmeiser talk to her boss? College Board chief David Coleman certainly created “something different” back in 2010. And given that the Class of 2015 had five years of exposure to his Common Core State Standards (of which he was the co-author of the English Language Standards), as well as spending their entire school career in the era of NCLB accountability, it doesn’t look like “something different” is working very well.

Of course, his new solution is to make next year’s newly designed SATs align with the Common Core. Expect ACT registration, which is already on the rise, to increase.

Reformers like Coleman are now the status quo, and the evidence of the effectiveness of their strategies have yet to appear. And if the past four years of SATs are a measure, then their reforms are having a negative effect on scores.

Reflecting on the dropping SAT scores, corporate reform super-fan, Mike Petrilli, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute asked this question in The Washington Post, “Why is education reform hitting a wall in high school?”

This former 15-year high school principal can answer your question, Mr. Petrilli. Education reform isn’t hitting a wall. It is the wall.