Policy Analysis No. 746

State Education Trends

Long-term trends in academic performance and spending are valuable tools for evaluating past education policies and informing current ones. But such data have been scarce at the state level, where the most important education policy decisions are made. State spending data exist reaching back to the 1960s, but the figures have been scattered across many different publications. State-level academic performance data are either nonexistent prior to 1990 or, as in the case of the SAT, are unrepresentative of statewide student populations. Using a time-series regression approach described in a separate publication, this paper adjusts state SAT score averages for factors such as participation rate and student demographics, which are known to affect outcomes, then validates the results against recent state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores. This produces continuous, state-representative estimated SAT score trends reaching back to 1972. The present paper charts these trends against both inflation-adjusted per pupil spending and the raw, unadjusted SAT results, providing an unprecedented perspective on American education inputs and outcomes over the past 40 years.

Andrew Coulson is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of the book Market Education: The Unknown History.