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Unlikely Critic of the SAT

Unlikely Critic of the SAT
January 4, 2013

David Coleman, the new president of the College Board, last year gave a speech (related to his prior position as co-leader of the effort to write the Common Core State Standards, and not serving at the College Board) in which he offered strong criticism of the SAT, The Washington Post reported. Coleman focused on an issue that has bothered other educators -- the way the SAT writing test doesn't judge whether students are making arguments that have a basis in facts. (This paragraph has been updated to correct an error about Coleman's position at the time of the remarks.)

Here's a portion of the transcript of the talk that the Post found at the Brookings Institution: "Right now, I think there’s a breakthrough that the SAT added writing, because we do want to make the claim that kids need to write to be ready. Like, duh, right. To be ready for college and career, it obviously includes writing. But I have a problem with the SAT writing. So if you look at the way the SAT assessment is designed, when you write an essay even if it’s an opinion piece, there’s no source information given to you. So in other words, you write like what you’re opinion is on a subject, but there’s no fact on the table. So a friend of mine tutors in Hong Kong, and she was asked by here Hong Kong students, where do you get the examples for the essay? She said, you know, it’s the American way, you make them up. Now I’m all for creativity and innovation, but I don’t think that’s quite the creativity we want to inspire in a generation of youth. That is, if writing is to be ready for the demands of career and college, it must be precise, it must be accurate, it must draw upon evidence. Now I think that is warranted by tons of information we see from surveys of college  professors, from evidence we have from other sources, so I think there is good reason to think about a design of SAT where rather than kids just writing an essay, there’s source material that they’re analyzing."

He also criticized the selection of vocabulary for the SAT: "I think when you think about vocabulary on exams, you know, how SAT words are famous as the words you will never use again? You know, you study them in high school and you’re like, gosh, I’ve never seen this before, and I probably never shall. Why wouldn’t it be the opposite? Why wouldn’t you have a body of language on the SAT that’s the words you most need to know and be ready to use again and again? Words like transform, deliberate, hypothesis, right?"

Asked about those comments recently, Coleman told the Post that "I want to be careful to say in a clear voice that any changes in SAT require the team, the trustees, and our partners in higher education to agree. The real question is can we make a revision of SAT a victory for everyone – more aligned with what colleges need as well as better work for kids. I think we can."

 

 

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