Money certainly is important.
Over the long term, average high school grades have gone up while SAT scores have “remained relatively unchanged”.
Average SAT scores going back to 1952, courtesy of Erik Jacobsen, also known as Erik the Red:
The solid circles and triangles represent scores calculated on the recentered scale.
In April 1995, the College Board recentered the score scales for all tests in the SAT Program to reflect the contemporary test-taking population. Recentering reestablished the average score for a study group of 1990 seniors at about 500—the midpoint of the 200-to-800 scale—allowing students, schools, and colleges to more easily interpret their scores in relation to those of a similar group of college-bound seniors.
By 1995, average SAT scores had drifted downward before recentering brought them back up.
The effect of recentering was to raise SAT scores for almost all tests taken before 1995. For example, a 540 verbal score from pre-1995 is equivalent to a 610 by today’s standards. The impact of recentering was smaller for math, with a pre-1995 math score of 540 translating to 560 today. All scores can be converted by using the CollegeBoard table.
(A comprehensive history of the SAT and ACT tests going back to the late 1800s is also provided by Erik the Red.)
What about high school grades? Have they also declined over time? No, in fact they have risen, especially for students with lower standardized test scores.
… Studies from ACT and College Board, the companies that run the two preeminent college-entrance exams, show GPAs increased while scores on the standardized ACT and SAT did not, a phenomenon they say likely indicates inflation. ACT estimates the average GPA inflation was about .25 on a scale of 4.0 between 1991 and 2003, though the 2005 study’s authors believe even that number understates the actual amount of grade inflation. Whether from hard work or grade inflation, GPAs grew the most for students with lower standardized test scores, and the least for those with higher scores on the SAT or ACT.
Another source indicates evidence of high school grade inflation over the long term.
Camara, Kimmel, Scheuneman, and Sawtell (2003) investigated grade inflation by using self-reported grade data and SAT scores for eight cohorts of college-bound students. The trend of average HSGPA over time was examined to investigate grade inflation. The authors found that 2002 high school grade point average “far exceeded” the grades students reported in 1976, whereas the SAT-V and SAT-M scores remained relatively unchanged.
College readiness is determined by meeting the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark score of 1550.
… The SAT Benchmark score of 1550 is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first-year GPA of B- or higher, which in turn is associated with a high likelihood of college success. Studies show that students who meet the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark are more likely to enroll in a four-year college, more likely to earn a higher first-year GPA, and more likely to earn a higher first-year GPA, and more likely to persist beyond the first year of college and complete their degree.
A consistent pattern over the last few years:
SAT math scores have stagnated over the last six years while reading scores have slipped.
Leaders and laggards among SAT test-takers
Students planning to major in some of the liberal arts and sciences performed significantly better than many who are aiming at more vocationally oriented degrees. Students wishing to major in multi/interdisciplinary studies earned the highest combined SAT score (1757), followed by the physical sciences (1673), English language and literature (1665), and social sciences (1661).
Significantly lagging behind were students hoping to major in three of the most popular fields — education (1442), psychology (1484), and business management and marketing (1497). Some of the lowest scores came from students wanting to major in parks and recreation (1328) and construction trades (1274).
Jessica Nevitt is a middle school English teacher who found her own whole-language education left her with a shaky understanding of grammar, a problem that became apparent when she took her SAT test. Now she is trying to make grammar instruction more engaging for her students by using Mad Libs.
… Grammar is a subject that I have struggled mightily with, as a student and a teacher.
My elementary school experience made me a product of the “whole language” movement. My teachers emphasized the importance of reading and daily journal writing, which in turn, translated into a grasping of the English language, which was organic and boundless.
The rote memorization of grammar rules through charts and workbooks, a hallmark of more traditional forms of grammar education, was seen as archaic and even inhumane.
Because I was both an avid reader and writer, the whole-language approach allowed me to understand grammar in context, without forcing me to spend countless hours memorizing charts and squelching my creativity. Although this approach seemed successful, it was not until years later that I realized something was missing.
During my first attempt at the SAT exam, I nearly passed out when I encountered the then-recently developed “writing” section. The questions asked me to select, in multiple-choice style, the grammatically correct version of a given sentence.
I used my intuition, based on years of whole-language reading and writing experience, to guess at the correct answer, and managed to squeak by. But it became clear at that moment just how clueless I was about grammar.
When she found her own students struggling with “dangling modifiers, participial phrases, subjects and predicates”, she decided to supplement traditional grammar instruction with Mad Libs.
Mad Libs — the popular children’s word game that requires players to fill in verbs, adjectives or other words to tell a story — is perhaps the single greatest grammar tool I have used to engage my students.
With the first few Mad Libs that we completed, the students had fun coming up with “silly” words that fit the part of speech required. However, as they gained a greater mastery of the parts of speech, we began to discuss the nuances of word choice and the incorporation of more sophisticated adjectives and verbs. Thus, grammar became a gateway for the teaching of writing.
Ultimately, the end goal of this exercise is to have students create their own Mad Libs. Students will have to form their own sentences with blanks, leaving out a particular part of speech. By doing this, students will not only gain a better understanding of the different roles that words can play, but also gain an understanding of the relationship between the parts of speech and the structure of a sentence.
Apparently Mad Libs is quite popular as a teaching method, as I learned when I Googled mad libs grammar worksheets. I’m sure that teachers find it engaging, but I have a lingering doubt about its effectiveness. While I realize that students must be engaged to learn, too often I hear educators stress the importance of “engaging” students over the importance of actual learning. My sense of uneasiness is amplified when teachers like Nevitt write about how our school children are used as guinea pigs in the classroom.
I am lucky to work at a school that allows me to experiment with different methods of grammar education …
Schools are not required to obtain permission from parents or undergo IRB review in order to conduct research using their students as human subjects.
All that being said, based on years of research the National Council of Teachers of English recommends against teaching grammar in isolation.
… ample evidence from 50 years of research has shown the teaching of grammar in isolation does not lead to improvement in students’ speaking and writing, and that in fact, it hinders development of students’ oral and written language….
Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English affirm the position that the use of isolated grammar and usage exercises not supported by theory and research is a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing and that, in order to improve both of these, class time at all levels must be devoted to opportunities for meaningful listening, speaking, reading, and writing; and that NCTE urge the discontinuance of testing practices that encourage the teaching of grammar rather than English language arts instruction.
I think the optimal situation would be for schools to use lots of grade-level reading and writing along with explicit grammar instruction. For most students, that combination would probably be the best.
Well, this was a rambling post covering several topics. The main point I’d like to emphasize: