21 September 2008

The Option of Standardised Testing

As Sunday draws this weekend to a close, I decided to spend it happily and wisely. For those of you who were terrified by my previous diatribe against the symphonic band, I apologise for being so gratuitously angry. Me, you, and Barnhill will forget about that and just move on as a great group of students; I know it.

I woke up around 8 this morning, unlike most Sundays, to watch ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos to watch Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson discuss the government's bank rescue plan. Since August I've been watching the Sunday morning news talk shows regularly to keep up with the latest developments in the White House and the election. Later today I took a practice SAT exam, and I received a 2010 on that, by my own reasonable estimations. My actual SAT score, from May 2008, was 1990, and I think I'll be on the Improvement Road as I keep on trying. For now, I feel that I need to improve on following directions on some of the more deceptive, pesky questions - it's true, all 3 sections (Readin', Ritin', and 'Rithmetic Reading, Writing, and Math) contain "trap answers" to certainly worded questions in order to test our attention span. The most difficult section there is Critical Reading (the full name of the Reading section) due to its testing of obscure English words and the tendency for me to imagine "hidden" elements of the reading passages.

And just now I came upon this New York Times education section article "College Panel Calls for Less Focus on SATs" by Sara Rimer, who reported on a report led by William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions/financial aid at Harvard University. Fitzsimmons's report argued that the SAT/ACT standardised testing is screwing up secondary education and is out of touch with what students need to prepare for life college & beyond. The article page links to the report, titled "Report of the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission" and published by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Arguments in the report included:
- Colleges should make the SAT/ACT optional if their admissions directors have good reason to believe that the SAT will be useless in determining student merit.
- "Cutscores", minimum SAT scores required for admission, should end; the more advantaged students would have a nearly unfair advantage over others who probably cannot afford tutouring. (Personal note: For the earlier part of 2008 I had tutouring for the SAT Writing Section and AP Calculus AB Exam; the California State University system currently uses "cutscores" system)
- The PSAT seems to be a less-than-reliable way to determine National Merit Scholarships
- SAT/ACT scores should not and cannot be seen to correlate with college's financial resources.
- Such scores can under- or over-predict first-year GPA's, especially for English learners/women/minorities, or "calcify" racial, ethnic, or parental educational gaps.
- It's a better idea to emphasize the SAT Subject Tests/Advanced Placement (AP) Exams/High School Exit Exams instead, since those products will further motivate state educational boards. (Regional note: In my state the public school students get "Early Assessment Program" exams from the CSU system to determine college readiness)
After having read through the 56 pages of the report, I almost have to agree. Even the SAT prep book that I own, Cracking the SAT, admits that the way the SAT evaluates - among other anamolies! - is different from how teachers instruct in the classroom. I really think that this "unfair advantage" system of getting better score on college admission test needs to stop - trust me, I've had coaching, and I still haven't done the best job I thought that I could. As Fitzsimmons's report states, students should be able to prepare for the SAT/college in general through the high school curriculum, not through extra coaching. It's no wonder public schools get so much heat these days.

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