The Public Interest

What’s really behind the SAT-score decline?

Charles Murray & R. J. Herrnstein

Winter 1992

AUTUMN 1991 saw renewed controversy about SAT scores and American education. First it was revealed that the national average on the verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test had dropped by two points for the 1990-1991 school year and that the math portion had dropped for the first time in eleven years, resuming the downward drift of the 1960s and 1970s. President Bush and writers for op-ed pages around the country seized on the news as an occasion for lamenting the sad state of American education. Then in September the federal government’s own National Center for Education Statistics reported that, based on the periodic tests given as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), American high school students were performing as well in 1990 as when the first NAEP tests were administered in 1970. This news was picked up by another set of op-ed commentators who explained why the SAT-score decline does not prove that American education has been getting worse.

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