Monday, January 18, 2016

New SAT Essay Is Obscure & Sets Kids up for Failure

As ACT and SAT battle for control of state testing, a disconcerting issue has arisen among English teachers regarding the new essay portion of the tests. Specifically, ACT's new writing assessment, while more challenging in the expectations, is still relevant and accessible for all high schools students. However, SAT's essay is a rather obscure and less relevant form of writing that is going to improperly portray writing deficiences and set many kids up for failure in their bid to attend colleges and universities. As you can imagine, I’ve been pretty critical of Colorado’s decision to switch to SAT in the future. I don’t know if you have looked at the new SAT yet, but I am bothered by the new format and its lack of relevance and accessibility for many students.

Argumentative writing, as in taking a position, has been the foundation of both ACT/SAT for years. ACT recently expanded the prompt, and it’s certainly a bit more challenging in its wording. But it’s still an argument. That type of position-based writing has widespread application across content areas, and it is relevant and helpful for all kids, regardless of future college major. SAT’s new essay prompt is an argumentative deconstruction – basically, a style analysis of an argument. Style analysis is not a widely relevant and applicable skill, and it will present considerable difficulties for teachers and kids – all to little benefit. And, as English teachers we need to seriously consider how much we alter what we regularly do in the classroom in response to our kids being asked to take this new – and unpiloted – test.

"Read and carefully consider the three perspectives related to the passage. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the issue  (ie., this is a defend, challenge, qualify position approach) Write a unified essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives. In your essay, be sure to:
  • analyze and evaluate multiple perspectives
  • state and develop your own perspective
  • explain the relationship between the various views

As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses
  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience.

Basically, College Board is setting up more kids for failure based on the simple fact that College Board President David Coleman has no experience teaching high school, knows very little about how to teach English, and has some pretty misguided ideas about how to effectively assess writing proficiency.

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