Haven’t we been down this road before? Yes, we have.
A few weeks ago, the people in charge of administering the College Board’s SAT exams reported the average scores for high school seniors who took the test in 2011.
As is the case every year, Georgia students did not do as well as you might hope. For the fifth consecutive year, the average SAT score of the state’s students declined and Georgia ranks below nearly every other state.
Georgia students scored on average 1,445 out of a maximum score of 2,400. That was six points lower than the 2010 score and 55 points lower than the national average. Only two other states – South Carolina and Maine – had lower average scores than Georgia.
The state Department of Education continued the strange little dance it performs every year when Georgia’s low SAT scores are disclosed. It sent out a news release about the SAT scores that doesn’t bother to mention until the second paragraph that oh, by the way, Georgia’s scores were among the lowest in the nation.
At least there has been some improvement in bureaucratic transparency under current school Supt. John Barge. While the departmental news release hides the information about the SAT scores until the second paragraph, the news release distributed in 2010 did not mention the actual SAT scores until the third paragraph. So there’s that.
Georgia’s ranking at the bottom of the SAT barrel has been the case for a long time.
In 2002, when Gov. Roy Barnes was in a heated race for reelection against Sonny Perdue, the SAT scores were released in the middle of the campaign. Georgia’s average score had not increased from the year before and the state ranked 50th in the country.
Perdue blamed it all on Barnes’ push for an education reform program that was highly unpopular with school teachers.
“I just want to call attention to the fact that it’s a shame, I’m ashamed of the record here in Georgia where Roy Barnes’ program, in blaming teachers, has caused us to come in at 50th out of 50 in the United States in education,” Perdue said. “Totally unacceptable.”
“Think about it, we are dead last in the nation in SAT scores,” Perdue said. “If that doesn’t convince you we need to try something new, nothing will.”
Perdue argued that the SAT score was the “gold standard” for judging how good a job a state did in educating its students. “It’s the most standard, objective comparison that we have and citizens know, parents know, educators know that’s the measure we’ll be measured by,” he said.
Perdue defeated Barnes in that election and took over as governor, where he began dismantling much of Barnes’ education reform program. The new governor persuaded the legislature to pass a bill that relaxed the class size restrictions in the Barnes program and allowed schools to go back to larger class sizes. Perdue also signed a series of budgets that cut the state’s formula funding for K-12 education by a combined amount of nearly $3 billion during his two terms. These funding reductions were also known as “austerity cuts.”
How did all of that work out?
During Perdue’s first year in office, Georgia again ranked 50th in average SAT scores. In his second year in office, Georgia actually climbed to 49th place, moving slightly ahead of South Carolina. By Perdue’s third year in office, Georgia had slipped back into a tie with South Carolina for last place.
Even with these low rankings, Georgia’s average SAT scores still improved by three or four points a year. Those modest improvements ended in 2006 when the state’s combined score on the math and verbal sections dropped by three points.
That was the same year a writing section was added to the SAT exam, which at least enabled Georgia to climb to 46th place in the national rankings.
In 2007, the state’s average SAT score declined by five points. The average score dropped by an additional six points in 2008, by six points in 2009, and by seven points in 2010.
Using Perdue’s self-proclaimed “gold standard” of measurement, that would seem to indicate Georgia was not doing a very good job of educating its kids.
Perdue, of course, did not like putting a lot of money into public education, as evidenced by his relish for cutbacks in formula funding.
It is interesting to note that during the period from 1994 to 2001, Georgia’s average SAT score increased by a few points each year under governors – Zell Miller and Roy Barnes – who supported more funding for public education. During Perdue’s final term in office, as those cutbacks in state funding began to sink in, the average SAT score declined each year.
Was that drop in SAT scores a result of funding cutbacks, or was it just a coincidence? In the long run, it really doesn’t matter. A strong majority of Georgia’s voters have made it clear in recent elections that they consider it more important to keep taxes low than to spend additional money on education.
In the 2006 governor’s race, voters had a choice between Perdue, who cut state funding for public education, or a Democrat more amenable to the idea of increased spending on education, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor. The voters elected Perdue by a margin of nearly 20 points.
There was the same clear choice in 2010. Roy Barnes said the state should put more money into education. Nathan Deal opposed extra spending and said he favored giving schools more “flexibility” in how they used existing resources.
Voters again made their preference known, electing Deal by a smaller but still decisive 10-point margin.
Georgia does not spend as much money as other states do on education and you could argue that this low funding has had an impact on student performance as measured by SAT scores. But that is obviously what the voters want.