Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 1996 Issue »

    Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildering

    The Use and Misuse of State SAT and ACT Scores

    By Brian Powell and Lala Carr Steelman
    Twelve years ago, Brian Powell and Lala Carr Steelman analyzed state SAT scores in a landmark article in the Harvard Educational Review. At the time, politicians and the media, among others, had been using raw state SAT scores to make inferences about the relative quality of education among the U.S. states. Powell and Steelman, however, found that more than 80 percent of the variation in average state SAT scores could be attributed to the percentage of students in a state taking the test--in other words, in states where the percentage of students taking the SAT was low, state SAT averages tended to be high because that test-taking population included a high proportion of high-achieving students, and vice-versa. Since the percentage of students taking the SAT was not necessarily linked to the quality of education in a given state, Powell and Steelman cautioned against using unadjusted state SAT averages to evaluate educational quality.

    In this article, Powell and Steelman revisit the subject of state SAT scores, providing an update on how state SAT scores continue to be used and misused in public deliberation over the last decade, reanalyzing interstate variation in SAT scores using contemporary data, and extending their analysis to investigate variation among state ACT scores. Powell and Steelman conclude by reaffirming their earlier position that state rankings based on SAT scores change dramatically once they have been adjusted for factors such as the participation rate or the class rank of the student test-taking population. In addition, despite the claims of some researchers and policymakers that money does not make much difference in terms of student achievement, Powell and Steelman find that public expenditures are positively related to state SAT and ACT performance.

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    Spring 1996 Issue


    Getting to Scale with Good Educational Practice
    By Richard F. Elmore
    Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildering
    The Use and Misuse of State SAT and ACT Scores
    By Brian Powell and Lala Carr Steelman
    A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies
    Designing Social Futures
    The New London Group
    The Politics of Culture
    Understanding Local Political Resistance to Detracking in Racially Mixed Schools
    By Amy Stuart Wells and Irene Serna

    Book Notes

    Moral Development
    Edited by Bill Puka

    Places of Inquiry
    By Burton R. Clark

    Teaching and Learning in History
    Edited by Gaea Leinhardt, Isabel L. Beck, and Catherine Stainton.

    School-Based Management
    Edited by Susan Albers Mohrman and Priscilla Wohlstetter.

    Developing Home-School Partnerships
    By Susan McAllister Swap

    Over the Ivy Walls
    By Patricia Gandara

    Composition as a Cultural Practice
    By Alan W. France

    Fugitive Cultures
    By Henry Giroux

    A New Generation of Evidence
    Edited by Anne Henderson and Nancy Berla.

    By Molly Ladd-Taylor.

    Beyond Tracking
    Edited by Harbison Pool and Jane A. Page

    School-Community Connections
    Edited by Leo C. Rigsby, Maynard C. Reynolds, and Margaret C. Wang.

    Bird by Bird
    By Anne Lamott

    The International Education Quotations Encyclopaedia
    Edited by Keith Allan Noble

    Learning from Strangers
    By Robert S. Weiss

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