The "new and improved" SAT test was offered for the first time in March and, in one of the major changes, students were required to write an essay as part of the annual ritual. The College Board thinks this alteration makes the test more relevant. Others are not so sure it’s an improvement.
The National Council of Teachers of English just issued a report which is very critical of the writing section, saying that the essay "could encourage mediocre, formulaic writing".
Critics say the test will not encourage good writing because it allows little time for either revision or careful preparation. Asserting that the writing section of the new SAT is very similar to the old SAT II writing test, the task force said there was "no evidence" to suggest that it would be useful in "predicting a student’s first year course grades" or writing performance. It said that the time spent on test preparation is "likely to take precious time away from high quality writing instruction."
Certainly valid points, but the SAT has never been a good predictor of college success – which is why the College Board dropped that particular claim when they changed the name of the test (from Scholastic Aptitude Test to just the SAT). Of greater concern, however, is what Les Perelman, a professor at MIT and a director of their undergraduate writing program, has found about how the writing exam is scored.
Perelman reviewed the graded essays on the College Board web site and found a direct match between the length of an essay and the score it received. In other words, students are basically being told that more they write the better their grade.
Even more troubling, however, were the factual errors Perelman found, even in the essays with the highest scores. But, according to the College Board, there is no penalty for incorrect information. The score is all about the writing itself and not the contents. So, what does Perelman recommend to achieve the highest score possible on the SAT essay?
"I would advise writing as long as possible," Perelman said, "and include lots of facts, even if they’re made up." This, of course, is not what he teaches his MIT students.
So, once again, quantity is more important than quality. We seem to be doing that a lot in education these days.