As CNBC pronounced Texas the nation's best state for doing business, Gov. Rick Perry offered reasons why Texas is "still on top" during an interview with the business-news network. One of them: the number of Texas students participating in a national college-admissions' exam.
"We have more kids take the SAT than any other state in the nation," Perry said on the July 13 CNBC broadcast. "I mean a high percentage of our kids take the SAT."
Which is it?
Bill White, the Democratic nominee for governor who has stressed education as an important issue, thinks it's neither. "Rick Perry proved again yesterday that he simply can't tell the truth when it comes to education," a July 14 press release from White chided, saying that Perry gave "blatantly false information about SATs."
Later that day, the governor's office issued a press release pointing reporters to a July 14 Fortune magazine article that offered four reasons why "Texas beats California in a recession." However, the article also notes that "SAT scores in the state have declined over the last few years, and the state ranked 34th among the 52 states and jurisdictions graded on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) last year."
When we checked with Perry's campaign, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier tweaked the first of Perry's CNBC statements by saying Texas has more students taking the SAT than "nearly" any other state.
According to the College Board, which manages the SAT exams, Texas ranked third in 2009 in the number of SAT takers — 141,733 public and private school students. Of course, Texas was also the second-most populous state. California, the most populous state, had the most SAT participants (207,301), followed by New York (159,886).
We turned next to Perry's second statement, that a high percentage of "our kids" take the SAT — arguably a powerful talking point because a state's percentage of SAT takers signifies its share of potential college students.
According to the College Board in 2009, Texas had the 22nd highest SAT participation rate (21st if you don't count the District of Columbia): 51 percent of Texas students in the class of 2009. The national average was 46 percent. Maine had the highest participation rate (90 percent), followed by New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and D.C.
In recent years, neither the percentage of SAT-takers in Texas nor the state's place in the College Board rankings has changed much. In 2008, Texas again came in 22nd, with 50 percent of students taking the test. In fact, as long as Perry has been governor, Texas has ranked 20th, 21st or 22nd. Its share of students taking the test has ranged from a high of 57 percent (2003) to, most recently, a low of 51 percent.
So how does the governor's two-part statement score?
We'll cut him slack for saying Texas has the most students taking the SAT, since he immediately backed off when questioned. And Texas did have the third-highest number of high-school students who took the SAT in 2009.
Perry's statement that Texas has a high percentage of students taking the SAT begs the question: High compared to what? While the share of Texas students who took the test in 2009 exceeded the national average, 20 other states had greater shares of students taking the test including similarly high-population states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and New York. California had a smaller share: 49 percent.
We figure "high" means better than barely above average. To stick with the school metaphor, 51 percent is a failing grade.
We rate Perry's statement as Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
CNBC, America's top states for business, July 13, 2010
Fortune, 4 reasons why Texas beats California in a recession, July 14, 2010
Texas Education Agency, SAT scores show mixed results, Aug. 25, 2009
College Board, Archived SAT data and reports: SAT total group and state reports provide broad context of SAT performance, accessed July 14, 42010
Bill White for Texas campaign, Press release: There he goes again... incumbent can't tell the truth about education, July 14, 2010
E-mail interview with Catherine Frazier, deputy press secretary, Gov. Rick Perry's re-election campaign, July 14, 2010
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