January 28, 2007

Average SAT scores by high school

It's a long one, but it unveils a lot of information I've never seen written up before. Everybody talks about how average SAT scores differ at colleges, but I review how they differ at high schools. It will be of most interest to people in Los Angeles County, but SoCal high schools have enough mythos attached to them -- Beverly Hills High, Hollywood High, Compton Centennial High, home of the Bloods gang -- that it should be interesting to everybody.

What LA Schools Portend: A New, Unequal, People

… Public discourse about test scores is also retarded by a technical problem. There is such a proliferation of school achievement tests across the 50 states (the NCLB refused to institute a national test), that few people understand what the various scores mean. The states' test scores are just not as familiar as SAT scores, which tens of millions of Americans understand at least roughly.

Recently, I stumbled upon a database on the LA Almanac website listing the average SAT scores at every Los Angeles County public high school. The results were quite startling. They say a lot about public policy—and, indeed, about the future prospects for America … because, perhaps more than anywhere else, our future is being test-driven in our most populous county, Los Angeles, with its 10 million residents. …

Thus, only about seven or eight percent of the students who start 9th grade in the LAUSD will break 1000 on the SAT (even under the easier scoring system adopted in 1995).

For all Los Angeles County public high school freshmen, only about ten percent will exceed 1000 by the time they leave high school.

What about private school students? Do they lighten this dismal picture? Even adding them in, it's unlikely that much more than 16 percent of all freshmen in America's most populous county will ultimately break 1000.

It's time for our elites to face up to the fact: millions of young people just aren't all that bright by the standards of the upper middle class. Passing laws based on the assumption that we live in Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average just makes life worse for kids on the left half of the bell curve… People who are below average in intelligence have enough problems as it is, without being persecuted further by unrealistic politicians.

Duke Helfand reported in the LA Times: "Now the Los Angeles school board has raised the bar again. By the time today's second-graders graduate from high school in 2016, most will have to meet the University of California's entry requirements, which will mean passing a third year of advanced math, such as algebra II …"

A large fraction of LA high school students should be working on finally mastering fractions and percentages, skills they'll actually use in their careers—not banging their heads against the Algebra II wall of abstraction until they drop out. [More]

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Is the importance of the SAT actually validated?

My dad is a professor, and this reminds me of what he said about the GRE:

When we were putting together the Ph.D. program, we
found that the GRE only accounted for 11% of the variance in grades
students got once they entered the program.

They ended up requiring the GRE anyway so they wouldn't look less rigorous than other programs. But in this case, the emperor has no clothes.

Steve Sailer said...

Well, sure, because they only let in students with a narrow range of GREs. And if they admitted somebody with a lower GRE than their target range, that was because he had a high GPA or some other evidence of a good work ethic or other valuable trait.

Obama Bin Laden said...

Wow, shocking statistics. Is that just a SoCal thing, or are those numbers typical of the whole country?

Speaking of, like, smart people stuff, it would be, like, cool to see regional IQ stats side by side with bookstores per capita for major U.S. cities.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, it's not just a SoCal thing -- for example, high schools in New Jersey that are predominantly black or Hispanic have dismal scores as well...I graduated from a Jersey City high school (Dickinson) that would look pretty darn awful on paper but was in fact better than all the other ones (except for a magnet).

Anonymous said...

If we require passing algerbra 2 to GET INTO college,................

maybe we will have alot less sociology, psychology, african-american studies, women's studies, and english majors graduating after a few years. Most will be too stupid to get into school.

I always remembered that the people I met in college that took those "liberal" arts never had to even take real 'college' math classes. They didn't have to take any business beyond basic enon 101 either, yet the sociology students thought they could play armchair quarterback with society and knew more about the world than anyone you met on campus. This despite the fact that they were innumerate in higher math, scientifically illiterate, and had no grasp of even rudementerary accounting.

Oh wait...............we'd hardly have any teachers graduating because so few education majors could pass algerbra 2. Forget it.

jody said...

there is nothing wrong with majoring in english or psychology. the whole premise of isteve.com rests on ideas from psychology. and it's evident that the poster above me could work on his english. in fact english is starting to take an "idiocracy" style slide in america.

anyway, with the public school situation in 2007, in which the majority of students in the united states are not european, the future seems clear.

america is positioning itself to fight an economic war against 1300 million chinese using 100 million mexicans.

america is going to lose the economic war this century.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this what's wrong with America? We just keep asking to dumb things down.

Steve, you fail to understand the difference between causation and correlation. Your argument that test scores show inequality is like saying that there is inequality in height.

Maybe if people in the United States understood mathematics and statistics we wouldn't have people writing columns with poor arguments like this and more importantly, dumb politicians and leaders.

Ask a single parent in any developed country in the world and not a single one would want their child to be in the United States for their primary or secondary education. Our system is pathetic because we have no focus on results. It's because people like Steve claim that we need to lower standards. That's like saying "Oh, America is fat. Let's just raise the definition of what is obese so we can all feel better about ourselves."

That solves nothing. The CORE problem is we graduate people who know nothing from our high schools. Want to know why your job's really get outsourced? A kid who can't even do Algebra I is not worth $15/hour if he's not going to do some manual labor. That person is barely qualified to work at a call center selling mortgages.

Why is everyone so against tests? Why are we so against having goals, vision, and ambition. That is what made this country great but now we don't want to feel that we're dumb. Well let's own up to it. We are. If we want to remain competitive, we have to raise our standards and then talk about how to meet those. The solution is not to make things easier. Imagine if the army decided tomorrow that the way to improve it's recruiting targets was to lower the requirements for joining. Now you can be in poor health, have a 2nd grade education, and barely be able to put two sentences together. Great!

Audacious Epigone said...

This release comparing urban LA schools to other cities gives an estimated IQ of 87 for "non-English learners" in the district and 94 for "Enlgish learners". I wonder in what proportions these two categories actually comprise the LA district.

Last Anon,

A caveat: We keep dumb[en]ing things down--our population, that is. Rigorous testing requirements that an increasing number of students don't have the capability of performing proficiently on is not going to fix that.

Merit immigration and ways to encourage the wealthy to have more children and the impoverished to have fewer are much more potent ways to go about reversing the trend.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Ask a single parent in any developed country in the world and not a single one would want their child to be in the United States for their primary or secondary education."

Actually, we've got plenty of Korean and Indian immigrants moving to Northern New Jersey and happily enrolling their children in public schools. The key is that they move to towns with predominantly white-Asian populations (also with significant Jewish populations). The Koreans especially are also very active in school booster clubs, etc.

A quick example: the mayor of a town here (might have been Tenafly -- I don't remember) went to the Asian Parents Association and asked them to help raise $24 million for school improvements. Their response: "Why not $30 million?

There is also a virtuous cycle in top public school districts in suburban NYC (perhaps this is true in other affluent areas). Upper middle class parents want to live there, so they bid up real estate prices. That minimizes the number of black and Hispanic families and drives up the property tax revenues. The tax revenue is used to pay generous salaries for top teachers (many experienced teachers in top school districts can make over $100k ). That in turn makes more affluent white and Asian parents want to move to these towns, which supports the real estate prices and tax revenues.


AS said...

So, the decent kids who show up for class won't have a credential to distinguish themselves with prospective employers from the juvenile delinquents and the goof-off dropouts.

I think it’s a good thing that California is adding to the requirements for a high school degree. A high school degree is worthless today because it doesn’t signify any actual level of skill. But if a high school degree were only given to people who were at the 12th grade level in math, science, English, and history, then it would regain its value. And then maybe it wouldn’t be necessary for people to go to college simply to prove that they were literate.

What if California were to issue several lesser degrees: eighth grade degrees for eighth grade levels of proficiency in all subjects, 10th grade degrees, and so on? That might solve the problem you mention.

Anonymous said...

A Liberal Arts degree is not intrinsically bad or worthless - After all, the world does need people with expertise in all fields...Furthermore, a self-motivated person with solid writing skills and a comprehensive background of a particular area can find a decent job without much science-based or technical knowledge...

Although Charles Murray was absolutely correct when he stated too many unqualified people are going to college, it's also true that there are way too many college seniors graduating with fluff degrees. Employers don't really need Communications majors or Pyschology majors, etc...It's a tech driven world and businesses need all sorts of engineers, comp. programmers/administrators, scientists, chemists, math geniuses, etc...Relative to both population and size of GDP, the US does not produce enough nearly enough graduates (especially US citizen grads)as it should in these fields. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of self-motivated and highly dedicated Indian and Chinese students are aquiring these valuable skills and putting them to good use. While the whole world benefits from their talents, the competitive advantage of the US will decline as other countries forge ahead. Moreover, the US will be increasingly dependent on foreign brainpower to operate our power plants, write software, and design machinery...As an American, I don't want to see this country fall further into a type of semi-Idiocracy with an even larger underclass population...

My thoughts on what should be done to change this path: Math and science should be drilled into student's heads throughout K-12 education by making those class times longer. Courses that should be scaled back or completely replaced to make more time for math/science/comp. sci include foreign languages, psychology, sociology, Holocaust studies, diversity studies, entrepreneurship, drama, yearbook, journalism. And while it's been fashionable for many years to have extended sessions for writing/reading/literature (effectively 2 classes a day), this should be condensed into a single class at the middle school level...I also think high school students should be reading more non-fiction books...Shakespeare is highly overrated. Spending 90 or 100 minutes a day learning math in middle school will pay big dividends later on. One reason students find math so challenging is that the fundamental concepts are never really understood - as the level of math increases, problems become intimidating and confusing...

IQ will limit many, but there's no doubt in my mind that millions of American students could be achieving in fields whose importance is not properly conveyed since equal time is spent teaching less meaningful classes.
45 minutes of physics or C++ is more valuable than 45 minutes of learning Spanish...Therefore it makes sense to teach phsyics for 75 minutes and Spanish for 15...

Half Sigma said...

"When we were putting together the Ph.D. program, we
found that the GRE only accounted for 11% of the variance in grades
students got once they entered the program."

When people talk about variance they are trying to lie with statistics. No one truly understands what "variance" means except statisticians.

What you mean is the GRE has a 33% correlation with grades, a much higher number.

Furthermore, most PhD programs only accept students from a narrow range of GRE scores, which reduces its correlation. If the program randomly accepted students instead of only accepting students with high GRE scores, there'd be a much higher correlation between GRE and grades.

Anonymous said...

Didn't something like 50% of the LAUSD 9th graders pass algebra 1 eventually? If only 10% were SAT 1000ers, maybe, who knows, 80% of the 50% would not have been on the Algebra track but passed when it became mandatory. Sure, the pass rates are probably fudged a bit, but even so, you have to figure a lot of kids know something about algebra who would not have if the reigning idea was that they should learn and relearn fractions and percentages and get a diploma for sitting in class. It seems like to demonstrate to the dumber part of the thinking class that ethnic abilities are not great, you would unnecessarily condemn a lot of kids to learning nothing about algebra.

hieronymous bosch said...

all yoo say dat publik skools iz bad hey yoo da stoopid wunz! I grajuwaitid frum LA skoolz an I got strate A,an now I in Kollij studdy ta be a psykolijy or a dokter or may be a rabbi. Stop say LA iz fer dum stoodints,yoo dont no wut yoo is talkin abowt---FOOLZ!!

SFG said...

Enough with the math. Haven't you noticed the high-tech jobs being outsourced? Those jobs aren't going overseas because they're done better, they're going overseas because they're done cheaper, even at the cost of lower quality.

The market is not your friend. You are sitting on top of a huge wealth surplus due to the contributions of generations of prior Americans, and the market will redistribute it into the hands of other nations...except for a couple of CEOs here.

The appeal of immigration restriction is precisely that it prevents a free market in labor. And yes, I support it for precisely this reason.

Steve Sailer said...

At Oxford and Cambridge, you take an exam at the end of your career, and how you score on it determines what kind of degree you'll get:


Something like that would be appropriate for high school degrees. Instead, we get graduation examps like,in California the new CAHSEE, which requires some ability in algebra to graduate from high school. We'd be better off with graduated graduation exams like Oxbridge's.

AP said...

SFG - What kind of degrees would you encourage American students to pursue? If you could dictate policy or school curriculums, what would you advocate?

jody said...

once again i'm struck by the irony of people bashing psychology, but then citing intelligence research as evidence.

psychology instruction should not be scaled back at any university. the united states should produce more, not less qualified psychologists.

Anonymous said...

psychology instruction should not be scaled back at any university. the united states should produce more, not less qualified psychologists.
I don't agree with the more psycholigy graduates idea but I do agree that psychology per se shouldn't be done away with. Psychology has a negative stigma attached to it in conservative circles because of the use of perverted, bogus psychology as an ideological weapon, by social subversives like Sigmund Freud and Steven J. Gould. Nevertheless I agree that it shoould be made a respectable discipline again, as the founders of the discipline intended.

Obama Bin Laden said...

Nevertheless I agree that [psychology]shoould be made a respectable discipline again, as the founders of the discipline intended.

You mean, so dirty old men get to talk to married woman about their sex lives? Sorry, couldn't resist. (Come to think of it, that explains a lot about organized religion too...)

Pschology at its best helps people adjust to a less than perfect society. Psychology at its worst justifies social problems by pretending they exist in people's "minds" instead of in the world.

Anonymous said...

Pschology at its best helps people adjust to a less than perfect society. Psychology at its worst justifies social problems by pretending they exist in people's "minds" instead of in the world.

What you say is only applicable to clinical psychology. I was thinking about both clinical and research psychology. That, aside, although I've never been to a psychologist, I have been to a psychiatrist and what you said was fascinating to me as it mirrors my own experience of psychiatry. The psychiatrist I saw was an extremely nice man and was very well-intended but he was determined to treat serious medical problems with his psychiatric drugs and then he put pressure on me to spend $1000+ on psychological testing. Needless to say I quit. The whole affair was disturbing (to me) and I think about it quite a lot.

SFG said...

Current lines of study are actually OK since most jobs don't require a college education anyway. You could argue we're not making enough engineers and scientists but we seem to have no problem importing them from abroad and in the process keeping domestic engineering types from going into it by driving wages down.

The real obstacle to meritocracy in admissions is ethnic diversity. If we went to test scores for admissions like every other country we'd have Asians and Indians filling up Harvard and Yale (which would cause their prestige to fall) and Blacks (native, not immigrant Africans who actually seem to do better) and Hispanics filling up the lower-tier schools (which would cause civil unrest)

Remember, Harvard instituted the interview to keep too many Jews from getting in.

MensaRefugee said...

"Asians and Indians filling up Harvard and Yale (which would cause their prestige to fall) "


Soon Asia (well E.Asia) will rule the world instead of the States. Cant say Im unhappy about it.

SFG said...

Oh, we'd definitely have a smarter ruling class for a little while if Harvard and Yale went meritocratic, no question. The point is that Harvard and Yale would cease to be places where the ruling class was trained and would become more like MIT. The ruling class would go elsewhere to bring up their kids, and Harvard and Yale would decline in prestige.

As for the East Asians taking over the world: no, you don't want that. I actually am not that fond of America. Long work hours, anti-intellectualism, glorification of extroverted business types: I'd rather be a Frenchman if I could choose to be reborn. But I'm not a Frenchman. I don't speak French. I don't know 'Phedre' from a hole in the ground. If France took over (assuming they had the guns) they'd just make us second-class citizens. Same with the Chinese: like any other ruling power, they will exploit America (and every other nation) as much as possible, just as America rips off other nations now. You may not like the way your country works, but you're stuck with it.

David Hume said...

Here is how you solve this problem: You establish three tiers of secondary education: a trade-oriented level at the bottom, a very, very academic level on top, and in the middle something that straddles the two. You then have snakes and ladders at every point so that transitions upward and downward are possible.

Americans are embarrasingly ignorant, by and large. More maths and science for the brightest is absolutely essential. And I mean much more. A few months ago I looked at the "algebra" that LA was asking its children to do — it was so simple it was absurd. The idea that students were struggling to pass that kind of stuff was risible.

Unless the U.S makes some significant changes to prevent its educational slide, you won't have to wait 100 yrs to see the effects: your grandchildren will feel them all too keenly in crime and large-scale social unrest.

Merit-based immigration is absolutely essential.

Anonymous said...

I am amused that sfg is pro-French but against meritocracy.

At the elite levels, the French are relentlessly meritocratic. One Frenchman told me that the only US school whose admissions is run like the top French schools (grandes ecoles, Polytechnique, etc.) is probably Caltech (and to a lesser extent, MIT). They would rather have a top engineer run a marketing firm than someone who could quote Phedre (even though all the elites would be expected to have read it).

The regular French unis such as the Sorbonne are like big state colleges -- if you're local, you can enroll. And they have zero prestige in France. But the elites are almost entirely test and grade driven. The only thing they do to keep out the riffraff is to make the process so non-transparent that outsiders have a slightly higher hurdle. But if pass that hurdle, you're in, whether you're Chinese or Maghreb.

LL said...

Half Sigma,

I have never known anyone in a quantitative major who thought the math section of the general GRE test was hard. My 790 was only 90th percentile. That's how pathetically easy the test is.

There was no college level math on the test - no calculus, proofs, or even statistics beyond knowing what a factorial was. I could easily see how a test on high school level math could have only a minimal amount of correlation with graduate level grades.

Anonymous said...

Americans are ignorant, yet we somehow outproduce the world in an almost unimaginable way.