The SAT: A Pricey Horse And Buggy

News Flash: The State of Connecticut has wasted its money because it has tested all high school students with a test that proves nothing and keeps them from learning what they need to learn in order to be successful in their future. Too bad for Connecticut.

The only positive news is for the outfit that makes the test. Thanks to Connecticut and 14 other states, it is now doing better financially and gaining back its lost share of the market. Good for the outfit’s profits.

The test is the SAT and the outfit is the College Board. This past week the College Board announced triumphantly that the most recent scores on the SAT are up as is participation and the percentage of college-ready students. But wait.

Peter Greene in Forbes Magazine gives these five reasons why “there is not a need to organize a parade right now”:

  1. The scores went up an average of 8 points; that is only a 0.7% increase. No big deal. For many years, one of my job responsibilities was to analyze standardized test scores for school districts. We would not mention to parents, students, or school  boards an eight point increase or decrease because it was insignificant.
  2. Participation rates are up only because 15 states, including Connecticut, require that all students take the test. Taking the test didn’t suddenly seem like a good idea to thousands of additional kids.
  3. The College Board has no idea who is college-ready. The College Board says that 46% to 47% of the test-takers met the College Board benchmarks for college-readiness, but the thing is that there has been absolutely no field-testing to ascertain if what is tested on the SAT makes for success in college. No college professors or high school educators or college graduates were asked. And there is ample evidence that what is tested is irrelevant to success in the workplace.
  4. The gains are not impressive because the test has been changed to guarantee a huge jump in scores, and that has not happened. The SAT was originally claimed to be a test of aptitude that “leveled the playing field” for kids regardless of what their high school education had been. The SAT never delivered on that, but that is now no longer even the intent. What happened is that David Coleman, known as “the chief architect of the Common Core Standards”, became president of the College Board in 2012 and decided that the new and sole purpose of the SAT is to assess the attainment of those standards. So classrooms across the country, fashioned on teaching the Common Core, became test-prep stations for the SAT. With that scenario, scores should have climbed through the roof. They did not.
  5. The SAT measures only one thing: SAT-taking skills. Proof of that comes from the College Board. Through its free tutorials in test-taking skills, the College Board claims scores rise a lot. So if a high score is what a student or the student’s parents want, it can be had for signing up for a tutorial in test-taking skills.  And voila!

Here’s the thing, though: Colleges and universities know that the SAT is not a good predictor of success in college and are increasingly dropping the SAT requirement for admission, and we have overwhelming evidence that what is measured on the SAT will not be of much use at all to those students when they enter the workforce.

So I say, let’s get our priorities right.

Let’s teach kids what are not Common Core Standards and what is not on the SAT. I can speak directly about the 42 Common Core Standards for English Language Arts because I know how and what students need to be taught in order to excel as readers and writers and know that, without a doubt, the Common Core Standards won’t help them. The Common Core stands in their way of being thoughtful readers and effective writers. Instead, let’s teach them what they need to grow and develop as learners and thinkers and to be successful in college and the workplace.

Let’s teach kids, as Tony Wagner, the lead scholar at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, recommends. Let’s teach them to question, to think critically, to collaborate with other knowledge-seekers, to deal with ambiguity, to be creative and imaginative, to express themselves clearly and with enthusiasm as writers and speakers, and to determine productive actions after analyzing and assessing information. Then and only then will our kids be ready for college and equipped for their future.

The SAT is the horse and buggy of education. Let’s put that horse out to pasture.

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