Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Doubleplusgood New SAT Duckspeak

In the past several days I have read so many articles and heard so many talk-show discussions on the big SAT changes announced by the College Board, that I just had to tune out.   I hit my doublethink quota on day two.  By day three after the announcement, I had to shut down or risk becoming a doubleplusgood duckspeaker.

The Ministry of Plenty (aka The College Board) has made adjustments to this famous test and presumably it will benefit the proletariat, the commoner, the peasants, the hoi-polloi.  Color me skeptical, but I’m not ready to jump for joy just yet.

The SAT has been long-detested by many.  It is especially abhorred by those who take it unprepared.


There are five things about the SAT that students hate:

1.  Math problems are presented in a tricky way.
      2.  An essay must be written in 25 minutes.
      3.  The vocabulary is arcane.
      4.  The critical reading passages are dense and, again, the questions try to trip up the test  taker.
      5.  The test is almost 4 hours long.


The new SAT promises to be less tricky, although now for some sections of the math, a student may not use a calculator. I don’t see how this can help anyone except the students who are very competent with math and who do not need a calculator.  I think that the academically disadvantaged student is going to struggle without a calculator.  Also, if the math is to be more like ACT math, then it will include more trigonometry.  Again, I ask, how is this going to help the academically disadvantaged students?

The essay is now optional, but this only helps students who are not applying to selective colleges.  Those colleges are going to require the essay.  Students aiming at schools that are traditionally hard to get into will still write the essay; everyone else won’t have to.  What does this tell you?  The bar has lowered – true.  But for whom?  Less selective schools have claimed that they do not look at the writing score anyway, which is just appalling because the writing score is NOT just the essay.  Included in that score (through multiple choice questions) is the demonstrated ability to write a grammatically correct and properly punctuated sentence.  It doesn't get much more basic.  However, now that the essay is optional, students least inclined to learn to write will eagerly skip it altogether.  Yet the students who have been groomed and propped up for entry to an outstanding four year college will continue to hammer away on their writing, and they will write that essay.  I see a widening gap here, not a leveling field.

When it comes to vocabulary, if high school students were reading Dickens, Melville, Conrad, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Eliot, Faulkner, Joyce and Solzhenitsyn – as they should be – they would have no trouble whatsoever with arcane vocabulary on the SAT.   The trouble is not arcane vocabulary.  The trouble is the trash that passes for literature in our public schools.

If the new critical reading questions include primary source documents from US history, which is something the College Board promises, then bravo.   However, this would include The Federalist Papers, John Locke, and Thomas Paine.  It surprises me that anyone would consider this a leveling of the playing field.  Students studying AP US History will be pleased.  Students who already possess outstanding critical reading skills will be pleased.  Other students should be warned – these questions could be quite difficult.  Current critical reading scores have fallen behind scores from 35 years ago and we can thank technology for that.  Free technology.   For example, the free technology that provides cell phones to all students whose families receive any kind of welfare.  FACT: The more our kids text and tweet and fool around on phones, the lower those critical reading scores will be. 

From the college-board website:  Students will encounter challenging texts and informational graphics that pertain to issues and topics like these in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section. Questions will require them to read and comprehend texts, revise texts to be consistent with data presented in graphics, synthesize information presented through texts and graphics, and solve problems based in science and social science.
This sounds more like college-level analysis to me.  I love it, but it will NOT be easier than what is on the test now.

Finally, no one has said anything at all about these changes shortening the test.  If you are skipping the essay, then your test will be "about" 3 hours long.  For everyone else it will be "about" 3hours and 50 minutes long.  It is not shorter. 


Although the College Board has marketed this as something that will help impoverished students, this I do not believe.  I think these changes will keep the struggling students in the hole they are in, while it will be neutral (or helpful) to kids born into success and who have prepositioned assets in place from day one to ensure a trajectory to academic success.

The College Board certainly wants to capture more of the testing market.  They have been losing market share to the ACT.  So this new SAT is more like the ACT.   The College Board wants to make more money.  This I believe. 

David Coleman, President of The College Board, is in very deep on the Common Core Initiative and he cannot afford to have states pulling out of this preposterous homogenization project.  He said himself that the new SAT will be alignedto high school curriculum – a long, slow curve ball to keep states on the Common Core bus.  The new SAT is the Common Core’s pimp. Coleman has a side-business - If you are really curious about his actions as president of The College Board, you ought to read about the goals of this business of his. 

Anyone who thinks that our best interests or the best interests of those living in poverty are being served by David Coleman and The College Board needs some kind of reality triagecare. 

A steady decline over the past few decades in academic performance from the students in our country speaks all of the truth that any parent, student, or politician needs to hear.  There is no government program, no free access to test prep, no elimination of hard vocabulary words, and no hand out that can stem the tide.   The problem is foundational and organic and so must be the solutions.  These solutions will be born in the family unit, not a township, state, or federal unit.  It does not take a village to raise a child; it takes a village to betray a child.

Have you ever wondered why the explosion of free online courses and free test preparation hasn't had an impact on knowledge and test scores?  The more free stuff we throw at the problem, the further away we move from getting at the real culprit.  A student has to have the time and the desire to use the free help.  It's just that simple.

The US is loath to speak plain truth and we are all handicapped by this.  Alas, the truth will never buy votes.  The truth will never get the wheels of commerce turning.  Only fantasy does this and it does it so very well.

With the new SAT - The kids of the 1% are going to continue to do quite well.  Everyone else: you are in a world of doublespeak insanity.  Do not listen to policymakers.  Take the high road and choose to do hard stuff every day.  Then you can create your own path to excellence.
The new SAT is not doubleplusgood.  It’s doubleplusungood.


Notes:  Some of the terms used in this essay are from George Orwell’s, 1984, which may or may not be part of the Common Core, but it is part of my curriculum.

Newspeak terminology:
Duckspeak- a Newspeak term meaning literally to quack like a duck or to speak without thinking.
Doublethink- the act of ordinary people simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct.
Doubleplusgood– to say that someone or something is the best.
Doubleplusungood– to say that someone or something is the worst.
Ministry of Plenty – In 1984, The Ministry of Plenty is in control of Oceania's planned economy, where the central theme is that a poor, weak populace is easier to rule over than a wealthy, educated and powerful populace.

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