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[Susan notes: This letter nicely sums up the issue of what SAT scores and NAEP scores actually show us.]

Published in Wall Street Journal

To the editor

There is a curious juxtaposition in the Dec. 8 Journal. A letter from Sara Stevenson citing an earlier article reports that SAT test scores have gone down, while "City Schools Gain in Reading, Math" (U.S. News) reports test scores via the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have gone up. Both were accurate, but only the NAEP results are correct.

With a few exceptions, only college-bound kids take the SAT, while NAEP is a nationally representative test. The further back in time one goes with the SAT, the more exclusive the test-taking population was.

Historically, college-bound kids were limited to the elite, while today most everybody tries to go to college. On average, "everybody" is dumber than the elite, so naturally SAT scores have gone down over time as a higher proportion of nonelite students take the test. Only the population-representative NAEP test truly tells us how the schools are doing, and the answer is that our schools are getting better and better every year.

Keith Baker

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