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Essays added to SATs?
June 10, 2002 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Essays added to SATs? I'm glad I don't have to take any more SATs! Among other proposed changes (such as a gradual inclusion of more advanced algebra & trig), the College Board hopes that including an essay portion will force students to spend more time writing. Thoughts?
posted by LuxFX (22 comments total)

 
All you need do is ask yourself how much writing you were required to do in high school and on what topics and what was done with what you handed in. That wil tell you a good deal about the projected changes.
posted by Postroad at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2002


I don't think I'd be very good at arranging words using dead-tree media any more. No cutting? No pasting? How in the world could one be coherent?
posted by TuffAustin at 7:18 AM on June 10, 2002


Question 5-A:
Write an essay based on ONE of the following topics:

i) I'm going to flunk this exam like a sumbitch.
ii) This wasn't on the prep course!
iii) If I could just sink a damn 18' jump shot, I wouldn't need this stupid test.
posted by grum@work at 7:21 AM on June 10, 2002


I'd say that verbose high-school bloggers might have an unfair advantage in these new SAT's. ;)
posted by brownpau at 7:32 AM on June 10, 2002


It's not just the SAT. The GRE is going to have a mandatory essay section beginning in October, just after I plan to take it. It will be interesting to see the paradigm shift as liberal arts students (with their "useless" degrees) begin to do better relative to engineering and science students. I'm an engineering student myself, but I'm not upset about the policy change. I don't consider myself a fantastic writer, but I have enjoyed the writing-intensive liberal arts courses I've taken much more than my peers in engineering seem to.
posted by Eamon at 7:55 AM on June 10, 2002


I think this has more to do with getting more minorities into college than anything else. Grading multiple choice questions is objective, while grading essay exams is subjective. It's now going to be simple to manipulate test scores to get any results desired.
posted by mikegre at 8:19 AM on June 10, 2002


Previous thread; a couple of good comments there (besides my own).
posted by dhartung at 8:33 AM on June 10, 2002


On what is this assumption based, mkegre? I'd guess that simply making sure urban public schools are as well funded as their suburban and private counterparts would do the trick.

I came into college from one of the best Chicago Public Schools, and it was a real shock to see suburban kids enter school having already taken things like electromagnetic physics and calculus. My high school didn't even *offer* these courses while I was there. Computers? A couple 386s used to teach kids how to use word processors and spreadsheets -- most of my classmates had already picked up several programming languages before entering college. Why fudge test results when simply giving a decent education to every citizen would have the same results?
posted by Eamon at 8:44 AM on June 10, 2002


interesting about your grandfather dhartung...I'm a UofC alumn :)

how would this help minorities getting into college? what about those with english as a second language, who might be much better at reading english than writing?

but my real concern is removing what makes standardized tests important -- that even from a national population of students, tests can be assured of equal scoring because of their objective nature. with an essay....say, hypothetically, that two students wrote identical essays for a question. they weren't cheating, they just happened to be part of a statistical fluke (and then won the lottery each day for the next three days). They would most likely get scored differently, regardless of having the same 'answer'. How is this fair?
posted by LuxFX at 8:50 AM on June 10, 2002


I don't think I'd be very good at arranging words using dead-tree media any more.

Wait... they're not going to let kids use word processors for this? Man, even when I was in high school (back in the mid-80s) I could barely stand to write anything without a computer. Not that you could read my handwriting if I had.
posted by kindall at 8:57 AM on June 10, 2002


The one thing that this won't do, for sure, is to shift the playing field in favor of the diamonds in the rough, the poor kids whose parents can't afford, or don't even know about, Princeton Review and Kaplan.

Mass-graded essays are extraordinarily coachable because their grading standard inevitably rewards adherence to a rigid organization and style standards.

This has certainly been proven to be true in the case of Bar exams, where "rote" drills are actually far more effective in giving someone a high exam score than they are in giving someone a high multiple-choice score, since the latter depends more upon actual knowledge than test-taking skills.

The only reform that is likely to de-emphasize parental money and sophistication is the reform being pushed by the President of the University of California: test only actual knowledge generally learned in a college-track high school curriculum (i.e., a series of SAT II achievement exams), rather than the psuedo-knowledge and test-aptitude tested by the SAT I Verbal and the junior-high-level math tested by the SAT I Math.
posted by MattD at 9:49 AM on June 10, 2002


The SAT does not measure intelligence. It does not measure scholastic ability. It has no statistical correlation with IQ, GPA, class rank, or future success/failure in college. SAT scores correlate with only one other variable: household income. It's not a yardstick. It's not fair. The whole thing is a big fat sham that's not only unfair, but totally irrelevant.

The changes to the SAT are an attempt to make the test more relevant. How many analogies did you solve in college? (Um... zero) How many essays did you write? (Um, hella lot). If I've gotta bust my ass to take a 3 hour test, it would be nice to know it has some bearing on skills I'll actually need in college. I don't think the changes go nearly far enough (the president of UofC is on the right track), but complaining about the essay doesn't change the fact that it's better than what we've got.

tests can be assured of equal scoring because of their objective nature.

Bullshit. The test favors knowledge of the English measuring system and knowledge of the physical sciences, among other things. Not to mention the fact that the Critical Reading sections require neither. The rules of logic and grammar are just as "objective" and would provide a foundation for scoring essays.

FairTest Fact Sheet: The SAT

Full disclosure: I teach SAT prep courses.
posted by junkbox at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2002


-tests can be assured of equal scoring because of their objetive nature

Bullshit. The test favors knowledge of the English measuring system and knowledge of the phsyical sciences among other things.


I wasn't saying anything about the content or topic of the questions, only the scoring. As in, if one student chooses 'C' on question 38, and another student also chooses 'C' on question 38, then they will be assured of equal points for that question.

The rules of logic and grammar are just as "objective" and would provide a foundation for scoring essays

agreed, somewhat. first off, I agree that rules of logic and grammar are "objective". But multiple choice questions have right answers and wrong answers, and are usually constructed well enough that each option is one or the other. If there is leniency in a given question, it is the responsibility of the test author to be aware of that and make sure the wrong options don't fall within that leniency. But I do think that the rules governing the verbal section should be the basis for the scoring of the essays, simply for consistency's sake, for both test-taker and test-grader.

In regards to the income/score comparison, I think it's a travesty. But I think the fault lies more in the schools than in the tests. Schools should give all of their students every advantage a rich father could. Schools seem to follow out-of-sight, out-of-mind concepts when it comes to students' education. I believe that schools should be responsible for the entire educational welfare of their students, not only up-to, but including college. Meaning, high schools should be rewarded for their efforts in placing students in colleges -- perhaps federal $$ for each graduate taking full college credits, same as if they were still attending the high school.
posted by LuxFX at 10:38 AM on June 10, 2002


It is a good change, but I'm glad i'm past all of these tests. :)
posted by LinemanBear at 11:06 AM on June 10, 2002


Cardhouse pointed me to this article on Salon on how standardized tests are graded. Disturbing story, but not surprising.
posted by jazon at 11:45 AM on June 10, 2002


The "there's no correlation" argument about SATs is total, pernicious, nonsense.

The analysis which shows that there is no SAT-grade correllation works only school by school, i.e., saying that Harvard GPAs don't correllate to SAT scores and that Arizona State GPAs don't correllate to SAT scores just means that the statistical difference between 1500 and 1600 (Harvard) and 1050 - 1150 (ASU) are not that huge. But, of course, that's because Harvard must, mathematically, have as many 20th percentile-of-their-college-class students as ASU. If you'd say that an average 1600 kid would have statistically insignificant grades from those of an average 1000 kid at the same school than you're crack smoking bigtime.

Does this mean that a fairer test could be devised? Sure -- so long as it focuses on actual knowledge.

Essays which are graded 10 per hour are not going to focus on actual knowledge at all, but rather on superficial fluidity and vocabulary and on transparent structure (introductory paragraph stating the basic issue and the student's thesis, three clear paragraphs, each of which proves a different aspect of the thesis with explicit support from the prompt text, and a conclusion paragraph which restates the thesis and draws a plausible and politically-correct conclusion from the proof of the thesis).

Superficial fluidity and vocabularly are things which cannot be taught, either in high school or in Kaplan. They flow from doing lots of reading from early childhood and being in a highly enriched verbal environment -- experiences and attributes which will correllate almost perfectly with parental income and education.

Transparent structuring is something which bad schools cannot teach, because a critical mass of students don't have the basic literary skill to use it, and won't be taught in good schools, because that kind of rote approach strikes liberal-minded English and Social Science teachers as totally off-base. Who will teach it, and highly effectively? Kaplan and Princeton.
posted by MattD at 12:06 PM on June 10, 2002


SAT scores correlate with only one other variable: household income, and

Superficial fluidity and vocabularly are things which cannot be taught... They flow from doing lots of reading from early childhood and being in a highly enriched verbal environment -- experiences and attributes which will correllate almost perfectly with parental income and education.

So kids that live in financially and socially stable families do better... which we've known forever.

And frankly, if the essay they're thinking about including is anything like the one on the SAT II Writing exam, it'll be useless.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:37 PM on June 10, 2002


(introductory paragraph stating the basic issue and the student's thesis, three clear paragraphs, each of which proves a different aspect of the thesis with explicit support from the prompt text, and a conclusion paragraph which restates the thesis and draws a plausible and politically-correct conclusion from the proof of the thesis).

::: cries :::
posted by rushmc at 3:58 PM on June 10, 2002


i've always thought this standardized tests are completely bogus. my parents made me take the princeton review course in high school and my score went up by a ridiculous amount. the princeton review and kaplan CD-ROMs similarly increased my scores on the LSATs and GREs.

I think they should get rid of these tests altogether. But since that's probably not going to happen, the essays are probably a good thing. Essays are less suseptible to the tricks that the courses teach you for exploiting the flaws in the test. I also think they ought to score the tests on a scale of 1 to 5 like the AP exams. While there may be some meaningful difference between a 1000 and a 1300, it's utterly ridiculous to think that there's a difference between a 1300 and a 1320.
posted by boltman at 4:50 PM on June 10, 2002


When I see the writing skills (minimal) of most of my undergrad students, I wonder why many of them were considered eligible to graduate from high school. The teacher part of me thinks this is a good idea.

The part of me that thinks standardized testing is a crock, however, thinks essay testing is ridiculous and very much subject to bias. Of course, it will also increase the cost of testing, probably putting even more hardship on the lower income students.

My preference is to dump the SAT completely. But at the same time, I understand why it exists. Some students, for whatever reason, may have grades that don't reflect their ability; the SAT is supposed to be an equalizer. I scored highly on the SAT myself; my grades, while OK, were not at the same level (mostly because I screwed around too much in 9th and 10th grade before getting serious about my grades). Perhaps the SAT got me into schools for which I wouldn't have otherwise been considered. Still, the flaws in the testing system just seem too strong to me. (I got a book on "beating the test" that described exactly how the test is structured and how to analyze the questions to come up with the right answer even when you don't have any idea. Was that why I got the high score? I will never know. Seems possible, though.)

I am sad that the GRE is changing this year, because they are dumping the logic section. That's the section I aced! It was the most fun of the three sections. And they are continually cutting back on GRE subject exams, too, which is a shame because some colleges would give you credit for scoring well on them.
posted by litlnemo at 7:10 PM on June 10, 2002


I'm from Australia so I'm not familiar with your SAT's, but it astounds me to hear that you don't currently write essays in your final highschool exams. Amazing!
posted by claire at 9:01 PM on June 12, 2002


claire, the SATs probably aren't what you're thinking of as final high school exams—they're not required to graduate. They're standardized tests most often taken in the junior year; the scores are sent around to colleges and universities as an aid in the selection process. The SATs and similar tests are administered by private agencies.
We don't really have a nationwide government-mandated exam system for high school in the USA yet (forgive me if my assumption that Australia has one is false); every administration calls for more accountability in the school system, but the plans never get very far.
posted by darukaru at 10:36 PM on June 12, 2002


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