Thursday, March 6, 2014

SAT For Dummies




The College Board has their spin doctors on call and ready to tell us a story.  But the fairy tale makes them out to be the white knights coming to the aid of over-stressed, financially strapped students.  What a crock!

Beginning in 2016, the SAT will have only an optional writing prompt that will be graded separately from the main test.  This reverses changes made in 2005 when colleges, spearheaded by the University of California system, threatened to stop making the exam mandatory for incoming freshmen and in some cases, abolishing altogether any requirements to take the exam.  In a panic, the College Board revamped the SAT, adding a writing portion (and an additional 800 points) to go with the traditional verbal and math portions for a grand total of 2400 points possible.  With the latest changes, the exam will revert to the old 1600 perfect score.

Where the bull really starts flying is in the statements by the College Board publicity machine.  This new and improved SAT will align the exam with what students learn in high school and eliminate any advantage gained from hiring test prep tutors?!  First of all, students are not learning all that much in high school, so this is the equivalent of “dummying down” the test.  That is nothing new; even the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) is an impossible hurdle for many students, and that test is tied directly to what students supposedly learn in public high schools up and down the state.  But the second part of that statement is a doozy: we are to believe that the College Board is so intent on erasing the economic advantage students who can afford tutoring have over their poorer brethren that they are rewriting the test to help those less fortunate?  Yet, they are also announcing a new partnership with one of the biggest test prep tutoring firms around:  Khan Academy.  Yes, the College Board owns the SAT and will now also profit as part of one of the largest test prep companies.  They’ll collect on both ends—student exam fees and test preparation tuition.  What a sweet deal!

In addition to dropping the writing portion, they will modify the vocabulary questions to drop more obscure words for more commonly used vocabulary.  This is Orwellian doublespeak meaning they will dummy down the vocabulary section.  They will do the same for the math portion, moving away from the theoretical questions and emphasizing more real life problems.  I can imagine an example:  if a well-known testing company sees an opportunity to boost their revenue by partnering with a test preparation company, how much profit will they make every year?  In addition, if they make the test easier both to take and to score, will that increase profits even more?  It does not take a genius to see that they will own the test and cash in on the test preparation industry, an industry they have maligned for years saying such tutoring does not help students do better on the test, even though independent research indicated the opposite.

Of course, the SAT must remain competitive against the growing influence of another college entrance test, the ACT.  Many colleges now accept ACT scores along with, or even in place of, SAT scores.  The ACT has an optional writing section, and its scoring system will now be closely copied by the College Board for the new and improved SAT.

One more way the College Board is “looking out” for students:  the revised SAT will now be tied closely to the new Common Core Standards espoused as the savior for our failing schools and their unfortunate graduates.  Less imaginative literature in favor of more informational texts like business memos, reports, and workplace writing.  Common Core is like the “new math” curriculum in the 1960s and 70s, or whole language in the 1980s and 90s.  Like those abandoned “revolutions” in education, will Common Core still be around in five years?  Undoubtedly, the SAT will, because the folks at College Board are experts at reading trends and milking the most financial gain out of hapless students caught in the switches.

Here is what should happen:  abolish all admissions testing for college.  Already, admissions committees are looking at grade point averages, teacher recommendations, extra-curricular activities, and even the course selections of incoming students.  At best, the SAT was simply one piece of evidence in a holistic admissions profile.  It is not, nor has it ever been, a good indicator of how students will do in college.  That is best indicated by how well they did in high school, how challenging the curriculum, how they adapted and flourished within the system.

The only thing the new SAT will do is make its owner, the College Board richer.  Anyone with critical thinking skills and an analytical mind can see that.  I wonder if the new SAT will do any better at determining if students have those skills?  Probably not, because that is not the goal of the College Board.  For them, it’s all about profit.

1 comment:

Pope John The Tall said...

It occurs to me that one might wonder just what benefit the various colleges and universities in this country derive from a continued affiliation with either SAT or ACT? Is there money back-flowing to the administrations? There's certainly enough empirical data to use to evaluate a student's application, so why the extra testing?
A smart man once told, always follow the money...
Nice post, Mr. Martin.