SATting 1,000

President Bush’s Secretary of Education sat down with TIME magazine for their “10 Questions” interview segment in the issue that features Karl Rove on the cover. I was struck particularly by this question:

HOW WELL DID YOU DO ON YOUR SATS? Pretty well. I don’t remember the number off the top of my head. The test has been recalibrated twice since I took [it]. I know I made well over 1,000—1,000 was the target to shoot for back when I was in high school, back in the golden days.

Who would remember that the test had been “recalibrated twice” since they took it but not more accurately remember their score? Or at least a general range for their score? More surprisingly, how does someone who’s worked for the Texas education reform commission, as the associate executive director for the state school board association, and is now the Secretary of Education not know that number, if for no other reason than as a baseline comparison?

What’s more frightening—coming from the Secretary of Education—is the assertion that “1,000 was the target to shoot for.” According to Table 132 of her own department’s Digest of Education Statistics 2003, the unmodified average combined math and verbal SAT score for the high school seniors in the 1974-75 school year was 906. That was the average. 1,000 was not exactly a hitching your lariat to the moon, even “back in the golden days.”

To put it in perspective, my wife and I bracket Spellings by almost exactly 4 years on either side (she got her BA in 1979, I assume she graduated high school in 1975). Barbara, who took the test as a part of the class of 1971 scored in the mid-1400s. I graduated in 1979, took the SAT in both my junior and senior years, and got 1350 both times. Neither of us put any time into studying for the SAT, we’re just moderately smart.

Maybe Margaret Spellings was using “well over 1,000” to mean something like “several hundred points over 1,000,” but that seems a little at variance with the assertion that a grand was the “target” and the “recalibrated” disclaimer.

It’s not as if an administration composed of “the best and the brightest” can’t get the country into a heaping mess of trouble—far from it—but it would be nice if they’d at least try to pick people who smarter than your average bear to run things like the Department of Education.