Carol Burris weighs in on the suggestion that the recent decline in SAT scores is due a more diverse pool of test-takers:

From the Washington Post:

Since 2011, average SAT scores have dropped by 10 points even though the proportion of test takers from the reported economic brackets has stayed the same and the modest uptick in the number of Latino students was partially offset by an increase in Asian American and international students [who have higher than average scores].  And in the year of the biggest drop (7 points), the proportional share of minority students is the same as it was in 2014.

So what does the SAT have to say about how to improve scores? 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.

I’ve been mulling over Burris’s comments. On one hand, I agree with her regarding Common Core (although detractors could argue that five years isn’t enough to judge), not to mention her reaction to Cyndie Schmeiser’s regurgitation of the College Board’s Sarah Palin-esque platitude du jour; however, I suspect there might be something else going on here.

I originally assumed that the changes to the SAT were designed in part to artificially inflate verbal scores, but now I’m beginning to take an even more cynical tack and wondering whether the scale won’t simply be set according to the College Board’s desired outcome. If the goal is to have evidence that Common Core is successfully boosting “college readiness,” then the scale will be set so that average scores rise; if the goal is to generate more handwringing over American students’  lack of “college and career” readiness, thus paving the way for yet another another cycle of “reforms,” then average scores will be shown to decline.

The content, format, and structure of the new test are sufficiently far from the old one that it will be very challenging to dispute the (in)accuracy of any concordance scale. The College Board will pretty much have a free hand on this one; as the only organization to have unfettered access to the data (or so I would presume), it will be able to manipulate the numbers as it sees fit. Furthermore, any discussion of score changes in the mainstream media will almost certainly include the usual cliches about “more rigorous exams” (if scores decline) or “exams that more accurately reflect what students are learning in school” (if scores rise), making any reports there a non-starter.

This is pure speculation, of course, but given that we’re basically talking about the same set of people who slapped together Common Core and then formed their own validation committee to approve it (start at the top of p. 3), I don’t think this is going too far into conspiracy theory territory.

Here’s the thing thing about evidence: just using it isn’t enough. Evidence, as a Yale-educated Rhodes scholar should presumably understand, is subject to interpretation. Far from being self-explanatory, even empirical evidence can be distorted and even fabricated in all sorts of ways — especially if the people doing the interpreting are the one setting the agenda.

The numbers will demonstrate whatever Darth Coleman (thanks for that one, Akil Bello!) and co. want it to demonstrate.

Because, of course, they have a command of evidence.