I’ve Got Some Good News and Some Bad News


The good news is that the folks that bring you the SAT have decided to abandon the SAT I essay. That infamous exercise, proven ineffective at “measuring” anything but length, is being laid to rest, and I guess that no one will be sorry to see it go. Even better is that much more of the remaining SAT I will be based on the ability to read analytically and synthetically.  It will also take a page from the IB book by requiring the quoting of lines to justify multiple-choice answers.

Problematic is the decision to tie the test more directly to the Common Core. The bad news is that the Common Core, a twelve-year program, is being suddenly and completely implemented all at once instead of grade by grade over the twelve-year period a sensible introduction should take. Grade 11 students with no training in the Core might find themselves suddenly at sea in a new SAT based on a curriculum they have not studied before. It would be better to implement it in twelve years with this year’s first-graders after the other eleven years were reliably in place. So the other bad news is that the new, new, new, new SAT may confront Grade 12 students a few years hence with many of the difficulties of understanding said to bedevil the current test.

But the good news is that colleges and universities abandoning the SAT entirely report 1) an upswing in the quality of their new students, and 2) a stronger showing in the admissions office of poor and disadvantaged students who can’t afford the price of special tutoring in how to take the SAT. It also gets rid of the US News corollary of Campbell’s Law. That corollary states that Admission Offices admitting students with weak SATs on the promise of better things to come—a decision commonly made with students from disadvantaged backgrounds—will lower their US News ratings and thus exercise a corrupting pressure against their admission of these students. The bad news is that dropping the SAT is not happening fast enough[1].

Further good news is the College Board President’s plan to include questions derived from reading foundational documents in American history. The bad news is that many people, including those who should know better, do not want to take seriously the role of properly taught history in intellectual formation, resulting in students who haven’t had that formation and don’t really know history.

In connection with that lack we have some really bad news in the reappearance of Joel Klein in a second launch of Rupert Murdoch’s Educational Tablet, called Amplify. The first launch, a year ago, promised such academic challenges as a game in which Tom Sawyer battles the Brontë sisters. I assume that we are having a second launch because after the first one, people stayed away in droves from Paintball for Literacy, if that’s what it was.

For the second launch we have a new game in which middle-school students “get” to solve the problem of who murdered Edgar Allan Poe by examining the coroner’s report. Now, the cause of Poe’s death has been a persistent mystery for the past 175 years, and there was no coroner’s report because coroners didn’t typically make reports on deaths in the 1830s. What is more, the suggestion of foul play was first made only forty years after Poe died. Where is the history in this game? And if the object is only to cultivate a disembodied skill in deductive thinking and the process of elimination, why not just play Clue at home instead of buying Fun Software from Murdoch & Klein? The bad news is that students might come away from all this fun with a false sense of history, and their school district with an empty wallet.

[1] Did you know that “SAT” no longer actually stands for anything? It seems as if, in a different sense, these progressive colleges do!

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