'New SAT' blurs aptitude

Today marks the first day high school students around the country will take the New SAT. Changes to the college entrance exam are outlined on the College Board website, the most notable difference being that students will no longer have to worry about those pesky analogies or quantitative comparisons; they've been eliminated. Instead, officials point out that shorter reading passages have been added, there will apparently be tougher math questions, and students will now have to complete an essay component.

Patrick Welsh, a veteran teacher who has taught English at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., for over 30 years, doesn't believe the New SAT will provide colleges with any better indication of students' verbal ability than the old version did. As Mr. Welsh explained in the Washington Post  last week:

If a college wanted more proof of an applicant's verbal skills, it could ask the applicant to take the SAT II in writing, which included a 20—minute essay. When that score was added to the applicant's transcript and recommendations, a college had more than enough information to make a decision. Notably, though, only about 100 colleges around the country demanded the writing SAT II.

He's right. And while news reports have stated that the exam has been overhauled to better address the things students are learning today, this is a terrible idea and nothing but an excuse to further dumb down the one exam that once set kids apart from others. It's widely known that schools have largely abandoned fact—based instruction and the teaching of critical thinking skills in favor of "holistic" methods of instruction where students are encouraged to "estimate" and make "meaningful guesses" while reading and comprehending material.

The SAT, which was once a test of aptitude, has transformed into an "assessment" test. The latest addition of the writing component not only adds an additional 800 possible points to the SAT score, which will now allow for a top score of 2400, but essays will be graded by human beings, whose judgments are often subjective. While the College Board maintains "[the essay] will be scored by experienced and trained high school and college teachers," this leaves little reassurance of efficacy. The vast majority of our public schools are filled with 'experienced' and 'trained' teachers, yet this experience and training often leaves much to be desired.

Put differently, the new writing component of the SAT now demands that the exam be scored in part by evaluators who will be able to grade based on their own interpretations of quality and personal bias, whereas the computerized tool used to score multiple choice components must adhere to absolute standards of accuracy. It doesn't take a perfect score on the (old) SAT to realize that 800 points allows evaluators a lot of wiggle room with which to inflate student scores, which can only decrease the validity of the exam.

The SAT has been tweaked often over the years, most notably with regard to the elimination of perceived racially biased vocabulary terms on the exam (as if the Queen's English is any tougher for black kids to learn than it is for whites). However, making such changes to the exam has allowed educrats and liberal ideologues to blame racial disparities regarding test scores on factors other than student ability level.

Ironically enough, those most harmed by these continual manipulations of the SAT which muddle indicators of aptitude are minority students. These kids, often stuck in deplorable inner—city high schools that rarely command the attention of good colleges, are being increasingly deprived of the one measure of their competence that puts them on an even keel with their peers across the country, allowing them to command the attention of colleges all on their own —— an SAT that measures student aptitude.

After all the modifications to the SAT in recent years, I wasn't sure what the acronym even stands for these days. When I took the exam, it was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test. And I was almost sure that today it's called the Scholastic Assessment Test, but I called the College Board at 609—771—7600 just to find out. When I asked the customer service rep what SAT stands for, he, to my astonishment, said, "It actually stands for nothing."

How appropriate. Pretty soon, neither will its scores.

Trevor Bothwell is a freelance writer living in Maryland. He maintains a web log at www.therightreport.com (http://www.therightreport.com). Trevor can be contacted at bothwelltj@yahoo.com.

Today marks the first day high school students around the country will take the New SAT. Changes to the college entrance exam are outlined on the College Board website, the most notable difference being that students will no longer have to worry about those pesky analogies or quantitative comparisons; they've been eliminated. Instead, officials point out that shorter reading passages have been added, there will apparently be tougher math questions, and students will now have to complete an essay component.

Patrick Welsh, a veteran teacher who has taught English at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., for over 30 years, doesn't believe the New SAT will provide colleges with any better indication of students' verbal ability than the old version did. As Mr. Welsh explained in the Washington Post  last week:

If a college wanted more proof of an applicant's verbal skills, it could ask the applicant to take the SAT II in writing, which included a 20—minute essay. When that score was added to the applicant's transcript and recommendations, a college had more than enough information to make a decision. Notably, though, only about 100 colleges around the country demanded the writing SAT II.

He's right. And while news reports have stated that the exam has been overhauled to better address the things students are learning today, this is a terrible idea and nothing but an excuse to further dumb down the one exam that once set kids apart from others. It's widely known that schools have largely abandoned fact—based instruction and the teaching of critical thinking skills in favor of "holistic" methods of instruction where students are encouraged to "estimate" and make "meaningful guesses" while reading and comprehending material.

The SAT, which was once a test of aptitude, has transformed into an "assessment" test. The latest addition of the writing component not only adds an additional 800 possible points to the SAT score, which will now allow for a top score of 2400, but essays will be graded by human beings, whose judgments are often subjective. While the College Board maintains "[the essay] will be scored by experienced and trained high school and college teachers," this leaves little reassurance of efficacy. The vast majority of our public schools are filled with 'experienced' and 'trained' teachers, yet this experience and training often leaves much to be desired.

Put differently, the new writing component of the SAT now demands that the exam be scored in part by evaluators who will be able to grade based on their own interpretations of quality and personal bias, whereas the computerized tool used to score multiple choice components must adhere to absolute standards of accuracy. It doesn't take a perfect score on the (old) SAT to realize that 800 points allows evaluators a lot of wiggle room with which to inflate student scores, which can only decrease the validity of the exam.

The SAT has been tweaked often over the years, most notably with regard to the elimination of perceived racially biased vocabulary terms on the exam (as if the Queen's English is any tougher for black kids to learn than it is for whites). However, making such changes to the exam has allowed educrats and liberal ideologues to blame racial disparities regarding test scores on factors other than student ability level.

Ironically enough, those most harmed by these continual manipulations of the SAT which muddle indicators of aptitude are minority students. These kids, often stuck in deplorable inner—city high schools that rarely command the attention of good colleges, are being increasingly deprived of the one measure of their competence that puts them on an even keel with their peers across the country, allowing them to command the attention of colleges all on their own —— an SAT that measures student aptitude.

After all the modifications to the SAT in recent years, I wasn't sure what the acronym even stands for these days. When I took the exam, it was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test. And I was almost sure that today it's called the Scholastic Assessment Test, but I called the College Board at 609—771—7600 just to find out. When I asked the customer service rep what SAT stands for, he, to my astonishment, said, "It actually stands for nothing."

How appropriate. Pretty soon, neither will its scores.

Trevor Bothwell is a freelance writer living in Maryland. He maintains a web log at www.therightreport.com (http://www.therightreport.com). Trevor can be contacted at bothwelltj@yahoo.com.