Fun With Statistics: State School Superintendent Gets Creative to Make State #1 in Test Scores

You can tell a lot of stories with numbers, and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction just told one of them. In a release entitled, "State SAT Scores Lead the Nation Again" the office notes that, among states in which more than half of high school graduates took the SAT, Washington had the highest mean score in the critical reading and math, and the fourth highest mean score in writing.

What the release fails to mention is huge swaths of the country--particularly the South and Midwest--take the ACT instead of the SAT (for example, Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin all had 5% SAT participation rates (pdf)), and that Washington's SAT scores have been slipping since 2005 (pdf). And among the states where the ACT isn't the dominant test, our SAT participation rate is actually pretty low.

Finally, as the release notes, scores tend to drop as participation increases (and advantaged students from elite schools make up less of the pool), so in using 50% as the cut-off when the state participation rate is 53%, OSPI ensured that Washington would be well-positioned against its arbitrarily selected competition. (On the bright side, participation among African-American (+3.6%), Hispanic (+8.8%), and American Indian (+2%) students is up this year.)

The lesson: You can be 42nd in the country in school funding and still be #1 in performance, so long as you're good enough with your math to tweak it.

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