Do SAT Scores Prove States Need It?

Posted by Shazy on Monday, February 28, 2011

Does collective bargaining make for better or worse test scores?

With Republican-controlled legislatures and state houses from Wisconsin to Oklahoma attempting to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights, figures on the combined SAT and ACT college entrance test scores in states without them are proving fodder for the ongoing debate.

As republished in The Economist, a chart purporting to show that combined SAT and ACT scores in the five U.S. states without collective bargaining rights are among the worst in the country quickly became a viral hit on Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, this reporter first saw the information via Andrew Sullivan's blog, which linked to The Economist, a highly trusted source of information. The specific data showed the following combined SAT/ACT rankings for the states without collective bargaining rights for teachers:

* South Carolina -- 50th
* North Carolina -- 49th
* Georgia -- 48th
* Texas -- 47th
* Virginia -- 44th

Wisconsin ranked second, according to the source cited by the Economist.

Though the Economist did note that drawing the conclusion that students did better as a direct result of the inclusion of collective bargaining rights for their teachers was tenuous, it suggested that arguing that doing away with those rights would lift student performance was rather absurd.

"... this doesn't show that collective bargaining makes school systems better. But it makes it pretty hard to argue the converse," the Economist wrote.

The problem with the stats? As PolitiFact discovered, the data came from 1999, not 2010. Moreover, a variety of factors account for test score results.

While the most recent data on SAT/ACT scores shows outcomes not altogether out of line with the 1999 figures -- with South Carolina scoring 49th on the 2010 SAT and 46th on the 2009 ACT, while Wisconsin ranked third and 13th, respectively -- the point remains that judgment is better withheld on what the scores say in regard to collective bargaining. Here's how PolitiFact put it:

A review using current data finds that Wisconsin does perform better on test scores than the non-union states, but not as dramatically as suggested in the Facebook post. And there is at best limited evidence that unionization played a causal role in shaping differences in test scores.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, argues that allowing teachers unions to retain collective bargaining rights is too expensive a prospect in light of the state's budget shortfall.
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