I have in fact encountered quite a few SAT students who quite literally don't understand what it is that they're reading.I assume some of the problem can be attributed to balanced literacy reading instruction, which teaches students to move their eyes around the text as they seek clues to help them decipher unknown words. But I don't know, of course.
It has nothing to do with them not producing a particular answer that a teacher has arbitrarily deemed "correct" but rather is a result of their inability to unpack complex syntax, infer meanings that aren't literally spelled out for them, and, astonishingly (at least I was astonished the first time it happened - now I've been desensitized), to read an entire sentence from beginning to end, paying attention to every word, rather than "skimming" it in such a way that they only pick up random words that bear no apparent relationship to one another. If asked to summarize the gist of a reading in their own words, they're often completely lost.
Did I mention that some of these kids have attended elite Manhattan private schools since kindergarten?
At least from what I've seen, the problem isn't as bad as most people think. It's actually a lot worse.
Must get palisadesk on the case---!
Here is Arthur Whimbey making the same observation.