The latest U.S. public school SAT scores show a six point decline. Get ready for the chorus of complaints about how poor our schools are.

Some say that our student test scores show that our schools are poor, our teachers don’t teach well, and that we keep pouring good money after bad into our schools. All of us know the story. The students from Germany, Japan, and other countries we must compete with in the world marketplace continually rank above us on math and science standardized tests. Further, no matter how much money we throw at the problem and which new broom we use, (ie. No Child Left Behind) our students do not seem to show significant progress. The test scores are not going up.

After 40 years of watching the test score dilemma I am convinced it is what my grandmother use to call a “tempest in a tea pot.” I am not a big believer in comparative test scores predicting anything of consequence. To the nay-sayers related to our schools, I couldn’t disagree more strongly. We do have a test score problem but its foundation is in the very thing that makes us strong as a nation.

So, what causes our lower test scores? President Franklin D. Roosevelt called our country a melting pot. He was talking about the mixture of “people” who came to America from all over the world to create our dynamic population of high spirited, high ability people. It is this melting pot that causes the test score lag. The proof is in some of the new research done by the owner of the SAT test battery, the College Board of Princeton, New Jersey.

All would agree that there are differences in the races and national groups that populate the world. One of those differences relates to how students score on standardized tests. A recent College Board publication revealed that there were consistent differences in SAT test scores of descendants of various ethnic and national groups. For instance, Asians taking the test in the U.S. scored an almost identical average score with Asians in China and Singapore. Mexican Americans scored an almost identical score with those who took the test in Mexico. The scores of whites were similar to Europeans and blacks similar to Africans, etc. In short, genetic and family backgrounds seemed to dictate the average scores in almost every case.

Since we are the only “melting pot” in the world, we are the only place where test scores are not homogeneous by national and racial groups. That means the “mix” of students in our schools strongly influences our average scores. Our teachers and school administrators are very much aware that the mix of students in our schools has gone through a radical change since the mid-1960s, since our test scores were the highest in the world.

Today, more than 50 percent of U.S. public school students come from immigrant and minority homes. That fact influences the outcome whether we are comparing student SAT test scores state to state or comparing math and science scores with other countries.

Of course we should make our schools better. However, we should focus on the needs of students and not on some nebulous test scores.

If you question the thesis of this column stay tuned. Next week, for those who think test scores are a “be all, end all” goal of education, I promise a formula for raising test scores that is guaranteed to improve our public schools. We can do it without, as my grandmother used to say, “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” I have hinted at it in previous columns. In the final column of this public education series, I will give you the answer. Promise.
— You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at presnet@presnet.net. Books by Hopkins, “Journey to Gettysburg, The Wounds of War, The World as it was When Jesus Came,” and “Facts & Opinions on the Issues of our Time,” can be acquired at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through the E-mail above.