Friday, May 30, 2014

Changing the SAT, part 2

By Professor Doom

     Last time around I looked at changes to the SAT, and noted a disturbing trend, where students will no longer have an “unfair” advantage if they happen to know things, or happen to study.

     The last few changes continue the trend, and manage to get more disturbing:

Analysis in Science and in History/Social Studies

When students take the redesigned SAT, they will be asked to apply their reading, writing, language, and math skills to answer questions in science, history, and social studies contexts. They will use these skills — in college, in their jobs, and in their lives — to make sense of recent discoveries, political developments, global events, and health and environmental issues.

Students will encounter challenging texts and informational graphics that pertain to issues and topics like these in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section…

Again, this is a “knowledge out, come to the conclusions we want you to make in” change. I’m not opposed to this, but I honestly think students that know things should have some benefit to having that knowledge, but there will be no benefit to it on the SAT.

It’s really a little scary, since it’s easy to--by limiting the information provided--lead a person to wildly incorrect conclusions. Consider the “global warming” disaster, where people were swearing the polar ice caps would melt by 2012…it didn’t happen, and part of the problem is so many were unwilling to do their own independent study of the facts, instead relying upon facts provided by “reliable” sources like governments.

Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation

The U.S. founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers, have helped inspire a conversation that continues to this day about the nature of civic life. While the founding documents originated in the early American context, over time authors, speakers, and thinkers from the United States and around the world, including Edmund Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mohandas Gandhi, have broadened and deepened the conversation around such vital matters as freedom, justice, and human dignity. Every time students take the redesigned SAT, they will encounter a passage from one of the founding documents or from a text from the global conversation…

Now this is a change I can get behind, but only because it might, maybe, motivate the schools to put some of those founding documents on the curriculum (I sure never was made to study any of them in high school, or even college). That said, I fear this is a wolf-in-sheep’s clothing, because it starts with “U.S. founding documents…” and sounds good, but ends with “or from a text from the global conversation.” I very much fear that the end of that passage will be closer to reality, indoctrinating students not into the core concepts of inalienable rights and limited government, but instead into loopy theories that have led to the deaths of many millions of human beings (and these theories will be presented with limited information, so that the student has no opportunity to make an informed decision…).

No Penalty for Wrong Answers

The redesigned SAT will remove the penalty for wrong answers. Students will earn points for the questions they answer correctly. This move to rights-only scoring…

This is stunningly ignorant move. See, multiple choice tests have inherent “partial credit for guessing” in them. A student that knows nothing at all can guess, and mathematically, he’ll come out ahead because sometimes he’ll guess correctly. The SAT used to penalize guessing by deducting points for wrong answers, so that a guesser can at best break even—the losses from guessing wrong will cancel out the times he guesses right. 

The penalty, however, is based on guessing randomly over all answers…a student with enough knowledge to eliminate some of the answers will still come out ahead if he guesses among the answers that could be correct.

Again, this is a change that will eliminate any advantage a student with knowledge will have.

Any why the changes?

"We must certainly ask ourselves if we are, together or as a group, doing all we can to advance equity and excellence," College Board President David Coleman said while announcing the changes at the South by Southwest Education conference in Austin, Texas

The College Board also will partner with Khan Academy to offer free SAT test preparation materials to every student. College admissions tests, including the SAT and the ACT, have been heavily criticized by those who say they unintentionally favor students from wealthier families with the means to pay for preparation that gives students access to what Coleman called the "secrets" of the tests. 

"It is time for the College Board to say in a clear voice that the culture and practice of test preparation that now surrounds admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,.." 

And there you have it…they’re making the changes so that the folks with money (or are willing to study from books freely available in the library) don’t have an advantage.

I’m all for equity, mind you, but “money” is always going to confer some sort of advantage, and willingness to go the library is a heck of a thing to discourage in a student. Either way, life isn’t fair. These changes are doomed to fail, because, I promise you, parents with money WILL spend that money to help their children. On the other hand, the poor student will no longer have a chance to help himself by going to the library.

I honestly don’t know where the educationists at the SAT come from, not to know this about human beings.

Am I the only one that thinks it is stupid to make a higher education aptitude test so that students that study and have knowledge will have no advantage, and that this test will be a good indicator of success in higher education? What has higher education turned into, that studying and knowledge are no longer obviously considered important in the SAT?

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