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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Ups and Downs

What Does a Decline Mean?

I see that that the latest SAT results show a nationwide decline in reading, math, and in the new writing. In late August the College Board anounced that 2007 results showed average reading scores down from 503 to 502 (on a scale of the familiar 800), math down from 518 to 515, while in its second year, the mean score on the writing test slipped from 497 to 494. And yet the Board was relatively upbeat — and with some reason. I think the results point in many of the directions we’ve been discussing.

The testers claimed that these very slight slips needed to be seen in a larger context, because a larger and more diverse set of students took the test. For example, the number of test takers who were allowed not to pay is up by nearly a third — 31%. So it seems that students who are hurting financially are still both eager to be tested, and recognize the importance of doing so. The good news then — and perhaps NCLB does deserve some credit in this — is that more and more Americans of all backgrounds are recognizing that they need to go to college, and that, if they do, they need to be prepared — or at least, to be prepared to take college-prep-tests.

The College Board folks claim that their results, even the slight slip in the writing exam, reflect a "focus on writing in the classroom." Now if so, that is interesting. Because it is a very simple step to go from a focus on writing, to examples of good writing, to examples of good expository writing such as is required on the SAT, to the most obvious example of such writing: nonfiction. In other words, it may be that one avenue of entry into the classroom is via writing, not information. That is a backdoor, but it is still an entry. So, librarians, perhaps one way to pitch nonfiction to teachers is not just via the way it suits their scope and sequence, but also how demonstrates the kind of writing students need to learn — clear, logical, well supported, yet engaging, personal, exciting to read.