The Academe Blog

The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.

SAT and the Standards Shibboleth

David Coleman, head of the College Board (of SAT fame) and sparkplug to the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), seems to believe that if we can measure it, we can know it and evaluate it. He also seems to believe that measurement results in truth absolute, not truth relative, a mindset more comfortable to 18th and 19th-century thought than it should be to the 21st-century world of post-Einsteinian understanding. His beliefs are, at their core, simplistic, reductive, and regressive. Simplistic in that they narrow learning to memorization and established process; reductive in that they ignore anything that cannot be measured; regressive in that they can only look to what has been established, not to speculation or invention, to what will or can be discovered in the future. Such a mindset of arrogance of the known sweeps away any enthusiasm for the exploration.

Coleman is in the process of changing the SAT, something about as valuable as putting a new coat of paint on an ’86 Yugo. The resulting vehicle may look a little better, but it still is doubtful as a means of getting anyone where they want to go.

In today’s New York Times, Jennifer Finney Boylan writes:

The SAT is a mind-numbing, stress-inducing ritual of torture. The College Board can change the test all it likes, but no single exam, given on a single day, should determine anyone’s fate. The fact that we have been using this test to perform exactly this function for generations now is a national scandal.

The problems with the test are well known. It measures memorization, not intelligence. It favors the rich, who can afford preparatory crash courses. It freaks students out so completely that they cannot even think.

Not only that, but Coleman is certainly going to yoke his revised SAT to his CCSS, leading American education further down a defined and restrictive path to a model of education completely unable to change with the times and that sees itself only in terms of itself. It takes advantage of reluctance to trust teacher judgment, a reluctance built through growing hysteria about American public education that began with the 1983 report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, a deeply flawed attempt to convince Americans that their schools are failing.

Boylan asserts, correctly:

The thing is, though, there already is something that accurately mirrors the grades a student gets in school. Namely: the grades a student gets in school. A better way of revising the SAT, from what I can see, would be to do away with it once and for all.

We won’t get rid of it, however, until we learn to trust our teachers, the grade-givers, once again. Unfortunately, after thirty years on the pillory, their reputation is so tarnished that it is probably going to take another generation, at least, to re-establish confidence in them.

In the meantime, as we work to teach the value of teaching, we are going to have to fight the shibboleths that Coleman and the other educational “reformers” are trying to shove down our national throat. If we don’t, the teacher will be replaced completely by a meritocracy based on an updated version of the old Chinese imperial exams and monitored by machines. “New” will become a thing of the past.

About Aaron Barlow

English faculty, New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and Faculty Editor, "Academe."

2 comments on “SAT and the Standards Shibboleth

  1. gasstationwithoutpumps
    March 7, 2014

    The NY Times opinion piece was not much more than an “I didn’t like it” anecdote—a lot was based on the old “analogies” questions that have been gone from the SAT for some time. Aaron’s comments here don’t really add much more, other than his distaste for Common Core (a distaste I share, though for somewhat different reasons).

    The readers’ comments on the NY Times piece were far more thoughtful and nuanced, spanning a wide range of opinions both supporting and attacking the SAT. They are worth reading, even if the opinion piece itself is just fluff.

    (If you want my opinion on the changes to the SAT, see http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/sat-is-changing-in-2016/
    )

  2. Pingback: David Coleman | MI ED News Clips

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This entry was posted on March 7, 2014 by in faculty.
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