English in school has always meant an easy A for me. Yet this year, I consider English to be one of my most rigorous courses. In previous years, the class consisted of completion grades and straightforward tests over grammar or the basic events happening in a book. Now, Honors English 10, well at least for my class, focuses on testing composed of reading comprehension and passage analysis at a level similar to that of the critical reading portion of the SAT, which is a standardized test used for college admissions and is also known as my Achilles’ heel.
It’s not just me who has felt this sudden increase in difficulty; a couple weeks ago, several of my peers asked my English teacher why she was pushing us so hard. In response, my teacher said not only was such curriculum a part of the state’s requirement but also the fact that there currently is a nation-wide crisis in critical reading. The fact that we felt such a struggle was evidence of this problem.
SAT scores for the high school class of 2011 in writing have reached the lowest point since 1995 while scores in reading have marked an all-time low, according to recent research from College Board, the organization that oversees the exam. The average reading score nationwide dropped from 501 to 497 this year and has been part of an ongoing decline since 2005. In Carmel High School, a similar pattern followed: from the class of 2010 to the class of 2011, the SAT scores for verbal/critical reading decreased from 565 to 562. Think this is appalling? Well, here’s more: only 43 percent of the 1.6 million students who took the exam nationwide in 2011 achieved a high enough score, which means at least a 1,500 out of the total 2,400 points, to indicate that they were prepared to be successful in college. Being “successful” only qualifies as having a 65 percent chance of obtaining at least a B-minus average for the first year of college, whereas not being successful in college translates to dropping out of college, which leads to struggling to find a decent job, which is especially crucial in our current dire economy. My teacher was right; this is a national crisis.
College Board claims that there is no need to worry since the increase in the number of people taking the exam and the increase in the diversity of the test-takers accounts for the drop in scores. Nationally, of the class of 2011 test takers, 44 percent came from minority races/ethnic groups, and 27 percent spoke another language besides English at home. In Carmel, the number of students tested increased from 81.6 percent in 2010 to 88.8 percent in 2011. While these new demographics may play a factor, they are not entirely responsible for the continuous drop in scores shown in recent years.
I correlate technology as a scapegoat for my struggle in English. My constant and increasing use of the Internet has contributed to my lack of reading. For instance, this summer I barely even touched a book, opting instead to watch TV or go online for my source of entertainment. Such a pattern can be seen in our increasing technology-based society. According to a 2004 report by the National Endowment for Arts called Reading at Risk, literary reading in America is declining, especially among young people. Technology has allowed society to have a closer access to sources of entertainment and replaces old ways of staying entertained. For example, now a person is more likely to go on social networking sites like Facebook than to open a book and read. Such decreased rates of reading can cause the downfall in the productivity and the independent thinking of American society.
Recent additions to phones, particularly texting, can also be tied to the decreasing SAT scores. According to a Pew Research center poll, 51 percent of teens were text-messengers in 2006 while in 2010, 88 percent of teens with cell phones text. Is it just merely coincidence that as the number of teens texting increased, the SAT critical reading and writing scores decreased? I think not. Texts are composed of relatively short messages that state what a person would say in regular conversation and call for very simple, colloquial English. This constitutes a huge detriment to society as texting deteriorates the writing ability of students when they end up adopting the grammatically flawed and poorly written characteristics of the texting writing style. This may not only cause decreasing SAT scores for writing but also the lessening of the complexity of American literature.
While not definite, the cause of this national crisis in decreasing ability for critical reading and writing in larger part may be due to society becoming more technology-based. Some might claim that this decrease in English is inevitable, but it is not. Students need to stop being so heavily involved with technology and, instead, pick up a book not only for their own future but for the future of America.