The Wrong Tool

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“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” — Abraham Maslow

When it comes to Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews, that hammer is the Advanced Placement program.

His most recent vision of a nail in need of hammering is the “rapid decline” of colleges requiring students to take the SAT or ACT tests. A situation in which Mathews hears “cries of anguish from parents and educators who think this will reduce student readiness for college”.

Never mind the fact that the SAT has never made student “ready” for… well, anything. Other than learning how to take the SAT. The program has always been a highly profitable1 hoop that students are required to jump through in high school, one that many recent studies have demonstrated is also highly biased.

So, what is Mathews’ “cure” for no longer inflicting this particular standardized test on kids.

I have an idea that would both give college admissions officers a better measure of preparedness and raise the level of high school instruction. Why not open college-level programs like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate to all high school students? That would give them a chance to prepare for college by doing actual college work.

The balance of the column tries to justify his “solution” without a convincing explanation of why “doing actual college work” is the best way to prepare students for their life after graduation. Or why eliminating the SAT requirement is such a bad thing in the first place.

And, as always, Mathews certainly doesn’t address the many negative aspects of the Advanced Placement program, the ultimate in teach-to-the-test.

If you would care to read something on the other side of the issue, this article in The Atlantic written by a former AP teacher remains one of the best critiques almost ten years after it was published. Another good assessment of problems with the AP was published more recently in Mathews own paper.

The stock image was used to illustrate an article titled More Than Half of SAT Test-Takers Unprepared For College. A small dash of irony.

1. For both the College Board, the owner, and the huge test prep industry that is estimated to be worth more than $30 billion world-wide. And FYI, the AP program is also a profit center for the College Board.

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