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When you're a candidate for governor from a party out of power, you look for the ruling party's weak spots.
So when Democrat Thurbert Baker recently made his kickoff speech for his run for governor, he mentioned a litany of problems in the state, including Georgia's low educational ranking.
"Now, we may be No. 1 in bank failures, but our school test scores are right at the bottom," Baker said. "This isn't the fault of our teachers or our students. It's the fault of our leaders who talk a good game about education but do nothing. In fact, they do worse than nothing. Whenever the politicians go looking for money to fund their pet projects, guess where they get it? They cut education!"
In his speech, the outgoing attorney general gave us plenty of red meat to chew on. We decided to take a look into his claim about school test scores. Is Georgia "right at the bottom"?
Baker campaign official Edward Chapman was happy to tell us where his boss came up with that statement: an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article last year reporting how Georgia's students fared on the SAT.
"Georgia finished ahead of only South Carolina, Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia," the Aug. 30, 2009, article reported. (That may not be something to boast about, but Georgia's students ranked last in the nation in 2004, so they've improved.)
So, with the caveat that educators often warn against state comparisons because of wide variations in the types of students who take the tests, yes, the SAT alone indicates Georgia is close to the bottom. But we decided to look at scores on another college admission test -- the ACT. (There's a caveat with this one, too, because a smaller percentage of Georgia students take it than in many other states.)
Georgia fared better here. It ranked ahead of 10 states and the District of Columbia in the average ACT composite score. Another element of the ACT measures the percentage of students who passed its benchmark scores in English, math, reading and science. On this one, Georgia finished 38th, ahead of 13 others states, and just below students in the District of Columbia.
Baker campaign officials still contend their candidate's statement is true because more Georgia students take the SAT as opposed to the ACT. "We have always been at or very near the bottom among the states," Chapman said.
So overall, Georgia's test scores on the two main college entrance exams paint different pictures. On the SAT, the state ranked 47th. But on the ACT, the state was 38th or 40th. So it's not, as Baker said, "right at the bottom." We find his claim Half True.
Thurbert Baker campaign kickoff speech, April 29, 2010.
Georgia students lag on SAT test, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 30, 2009
ACT College readiness benchmark scores.
Telephone interview with Baker campaign official Edward Chapman, May 20, 2010
Telephone interview with ACT spokesman Ed Colby, May 20, 2010
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