SAT Scores Are NOT Useful for Placing Students in Writing Courses
“The SAT essay is a completely artificial and unnatural piece of writing”- Les Perelman
It is said that the SAT is considered to be a standardized assessment which is supposed to determine a students readiness for college but in many instances it is a source of stress, insecurity, and anxiety for some students, parents,and educators. Because of this the SAT may give a false assessment of a students abilities and academic aptitude. The essay portion is supposed to give an estimation of where a students writing ability falls in the academic arena. It has been found that the test scores are basically comparing one test takers scores to others in a group. There are many variables that could affect the outcome.
The SAT, considered to be a “norm-referenced” exam is designed to rank students rather than measure what they actually know. These types of exams compare students to other test takers. There needs to be a means of determining a students writing level and ability that is not based primarily on speculation involving predetermined criteria.
“So, there are at least two reasons for rejecting SAT scores as a substitute for placement testing. One is that a test’s validity depends on its intended use, and since the SAT was not designed as a placement test, it lacks validity for this purpose. The second reason is that the SAT is a norm-referenced test not aligned with a particular curriculum, while a college writing placement test is a criterion-referenced test with results linked to specific course content. “ (Gennaro 294)
Socioeconomic situations of students also play a huge role because it influences what students were taught and exposed to within their respective schools. This could give an unfair advantage to a certain group of students.
Todd Balf discusses the conversation between David Coleman and Les Perelman in his NewYork Times article “The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul.” They had a two hour long conversation and Perelman admitted that he was not against the essay portion, if it was structured in a better way. It caused intense student anxiety, teachers felt that the test was not representative of what was being taught in class, and a more serious charge against the test was that it gave an unfair advantage to students of higher socioeconomic status. Coleman summed it up best :
“The achievements of children from affluent families were tainted because they “bought” a score; those in the middle class cried foul because they couldn’t get the “good stuff” or were overextended trying to; and the poor, often minority students, were shut out completely.
Clearly children of more affluent families could afford to pay for expensive tutors, and test prep classes which heightened their advantages of securing higher test scores. This unfair advantage does nothing to equalize the playing field for students to be placed in the correct classes. The ability to be placed correctly should not rely on how much money a student’s family has to secure them elite placement. It has been found that students with good high school scores were able to perform very well even though they had low SAT scores.
According to Joanna Weiss in her article The Man Who Killed the SAT Essay, Les Perelman was a writing professor at MIT that participated in a conference on college composition grading and researched information regarding the SAT scoring component of essays.
“He discovered that the longer the essay, the higher that it was scored. Perelman approached the SAT with a writer’s skill at well-worded persuasion. He also had logic and data on his side. On the face of it, the SAT essay was always absurd: How many of us could write coherent deep thoughts in 25 minutes or less?…Perelman looked into the actual components of good scores, then came up with a cheeky, widely circulated guide for students. Write long, he advised. Use big, fancy words — “myriad” is a winner — and don’t worry about using them correctly. Include a quotation, even if it has nothing to do with the subject at hand.”
The concept of “ the longer the essay the better the score” Seems unbalanced because a student could have written an exceptional essay in a concise matter and was scored lower than one that threw bunches of words together probably rambling at some point but by the amount of words in their essay, they scored higher. An interesting concept, it seems that it wasn’t necessarily what you knew to be true, just fake it until you make it.
Karyn Holis shared an interesting interview with Les Perelman, the man referred to as the “ Man Who Killed the SAT”. The discussed several subjects such as his criticisms of the SAT, as well as his research at MIT. He discussed discrepancies such as only an affluent minority can afford test preparation. They also looked into his somewhat controversial stance on his criticism on automated writing tests and Automated Essay Scoring (AES). Perelman stated an important motivation for testing mania is corporate greed. The assessments are a cash cow in a sense. Testing is more profitable than textbooks today. These companies provide he textbooks, instructions for the tests and online resources as well as remediation resources which are multiple income streams. He also spoke of those who influenced him the most: John Searle, Mary Pratt, and Ross Winterowd, as well as what he considered as intellectual giants that he met MIT, the late Don Schön and Noam Chomsky, He also offered advice for young scholars and researchers that could be beneficial to them going forward. When asked his opinion on making the writing portion of the SAT optional , he stated that it is a good thing, he was asked to provide some input regarding writing assessment , but doubts” that the College Board will produce a writing assessment that will measure such skills as the abilities to synthesize information from texts and critically assess the underlying assumptions of an argument.”( Perelman )
“Tests are being widely used and misused to evaluate students, teachers, principals and administrators.” Bracey
Gerald Bracey offers a plethora of information on Assessment Literacy. He explains statistical terms and “ introduces some statistics that are essential to understanding testing concepts and for talking intelligently about tests.”, the terms of testing or a glossary which provided definitions on various aspects of and kinds of tests. Which is helpful for analytical people and those interested in what the purpose is for the various test. It is interesting information. It provide concise information on what terms for testing mean, what they evaluate or assess, how they are developed and what their validity is. He sums it up by answering “Why Assessment Literacy?”There is obviously a need to know and understand why these tests are being developed and what purposes are they being served.
On a similar thought pattern is the NCTE-WPA White Paper on Writing Assessment in Colleges and Universities. This is a statement on writing assessment in postsecondary education.
It speaks of connections, of how “writing instruction and literacy education at all levels are formal ways in which societies build citizens, and in which citizens develop reading and communication behaviors and competencies in order to participate in various communities.” In other words the way that societies educate and inform their citizens set a benchmark for them. It seems that there is a lot of research involved and that “ research argues that literacy and its teaching are socially contextualized and socially constructed dynamics, evolving as people, exigency, context.” This paper also discusses that principals should be in place to establish and ensure effective forms of writing assessment. The information should be appropriate for the situation,fair, valid, containing a reliable form of assessment.
By looking over the various documents it confirms that there are pro’s and con’s regarding whether SAT scores are reliable and should primarily be used to place students in writing courses. It has been believed that the essay portion is supposed to give an estimation of where a students writing ability falls in the academic arena. However the SAT may give a false assessment of a students abilities and academic aptitude. Clearly there needs to be a means of determining a students writing level and ability that is not based primarily on speculation involving predetermined criteria. SAT scores are not useful in my opinion for correctly placing students in the correct writing courses.