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Crawford: Ga. SAT scores stay near bottom
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It is a news story that has become very familiar over the past decade.

A few weeks ago, the people who administer the College Board's SAT exams reported the average scores for high school seniors taking the test in 2011.

As is the case every year, Georgia students did not do as well as we would hope. For the fifth consecutive year, the average SAT score of our students declined and the state ranks below nearly every other state.

Georgia students scored 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.

That 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.

Perdue blamed it on Barnes' education reform program that was highly unpopular with school teachers.

"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 at a news conference. "Totally unacceptable."

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 soon took over as governor and began dismantling much of Barnes' education reform program, most notably by allowing schools to go back to larger class sizes. Perdue also signed a series of budgets that cut state funding for K-12 education by a combined amount of nearly $3 billion during his two terms.

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 were still improving 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 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.

That's not a good trend and, by Perdue's "gold standard," indicates Georgia is not doing a very good job of educating its kids.

Some would argue that the decreasing SAT scores are a sign we should put more money into upgrading our schools, rather than continue down the path of cutting state funds for education.

That is not what a majority of Georgia voters want, however. They have made it clear in recent elections that they would rather keep taxes low than spend additional money on education.

In 2006, voters could pick between Perdue or a Democrat more amenable to the idea of increased spending on education, Mark Taylor. The voters elected Perdue by a margin of nearly 20 points.

There was the same clear choice in 2010. Barnes said the state should put more money into schools. 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.

We don't spend as much money as other states do on education and it shows in our test scores, but that is obviously what the voters want. In our democratic system, they are the ones who will ultimately make that decision.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesday and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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