Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Writing the SAT

According to the New York Times, on the new essay section of the SAT, students are allowed to make stuff up and still get a perfect score for filling the blue book. Does this make sense? Or is this asking the kids to make orange juice but not caring if they use apples?

"As to facts not mattering, they said it was a necessary accommodation on such a short, high-pressure test. "We know students don't write well when they're anxious," said Ed Hardin, a College Board test specialist. "We don't want them not to go forward with that little detail. Our attitude is go right ahead with that missing date or fact and readers should be instructed not to count off for that."

I can understand how this is consistent with their no-penalty-for-guessing policy, but logically it doesn't make sense. Does the College Board really think it's impossible for a college-bound student both to write well and to know what he or she is talking about? How is this a good indicator of college performance? And if students don't perform their best under pressure, doesn't that invalidate the entire test? No wonder you get 100 points just for filling in your name.

What concerns me is that it appears they are giving points for including lots of facts ("I would advise writing as long as possible," said Dr. Perelman, "and include lots of facts, even if they're made up.") Writing an informative, fact-filled essay is a different skill from writing a more literary critical analysis or philosophical essay. Both can be written well and students should know how to do both. But if they're looking for good writing that shows thought and novel ideas, why is the grading based on how many facts you include? If they're looking for a synthesis of memorized facts, why don't they care if the facts are correct? That's the part I don't get.

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