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SAT Questions


Three months after the debut of the SAT writing test, some colleges are expressing concerns about its validity, and many have decided not to require the scores, at least for the time being.

What experiences have you had with the SAT writing test? Does it test what it purports to test? Should SAT and ACT scores be used in the college-admissions process?


Validity? The same experts who validated the objective items ought be consulted. However, even if the experts all agree that the questions are valid in their intent, the gatekeeper for use/non-use of the essays will be RELIABILITY. Back in the '60's, try as they did, members of the testing community could not achieve scorer-to-scorer or, as I recall, even score/score again(same scorer) reliability in such exams. As a consequence, essay testing was dropped. It seems, oh, so logical to have students do writing as a test for writing ability. Also, it sits well with the non-testing-professional public. After all, isn't this a prime reason it has been reinstituted?

While I agree that we need more opportunities for students to write, I have concerns about the validity issues noted in Paul Koutnik's letter. I have a student who has been called "the best writer ever" by teachers throughout her 2-11 schooling, and who scored 800 on the old SAT test, yet who only scored 720 on the writing test. She tends to be creative in her expression -- how does that feature in a testing environment? Are we more interested in length? Content? Conventions? Ideas? What if the ideas conflict with the reviewer's prejudices? How do we filter out reviewer biases?

The issues raised in Carol Abbott's questions are probably the reasons that the Universities are balking at using the essays. How, indeed, can reviewer predispositions be accounted for? Well, of course, they can't be controlled for in any scientific way. Multiple re-reviews by reviewers selected, at random, from a huge pool might get closer to, "sort of" control, but the management of such a process would be impossible(size of the test-taker sample!) and the costs astronomical.

So, essay scoring, to provide a component of the overall ACT score, will, likely, at first, be modified to keep the subjective essay score separate from the objective section's score. Savy score interpreters, knowledgeable of difficulties, some of which are noted by Abbott and myself, will not "weight" the essay scores too heavily, or might disregard them. This may, then, lead to some other use of essays, perhaps, to assist test-takers in organizing their thoughts, prior to a specific set of objective items. Test administrators might distribute some "prompts" on specific subject matter, and instruct the test-takers to produce an essay to organize such material to accomplish a specific objective. This essay done, test-takers would, then start the set of objective items, written to elicit far more analytic and evaluative skill than might have been expected absent the essay.

After a few other struggles to save the essay, it will, likely, be dropped, or saved with the essays as documents for use by admissions counselors during face-to-face live interviews with the writer-applicants.

I work for Summit Educational Group, a company in New England and the Mid-Atlantic that offers SAT tutoring and classes, among other services. This past Saturday, I took the SAT to get a sense of what was on it. While I was able to respond to the essay prompt and provide some decent examples, I found it difficult to make my point in the 25 minutes that I was given. I have much more experience than the average high school student in writing timed essays (college exams, many standardized tests, etc.), and I was scrambling to finish my conclusion during the 25th minute. I'm sure that there are some students who had no problem with the SAT essay, but I assume that most of them found it very difficult to express a clear opinion and support it with multiple examples in only 25 minutes. The prompt asked something to the effect of, "Is it important to repress memories of the past to succeed in the future or are memories of the past important to future success?" At first, I froze when trying to think of examples. After four or five minutes, I was able to think of two solid examples. I do not envy the high school students who will have their essay score affect their college-admissions possibilities.

The GED has required an essay, as well as the multiple choice mechanics since 1988. With a pretty simple formula, I have found it MUCH easier to get low writers up to speed than low math people, of course, although very Spanish-domimamt people have trouble.
As a facile writer, I could write a killer of a Writing test, with all the kinds of writing I find easy, but only other equally facile writers would be able to score it, of course.
Math scores necessary to pass the GED, to which all the dropouts, pushouts, nongraduates are sent, have risen to the impossible for too many (as I have written.)
Some writers, as well as math test-takers, might be able to be considered to have dyslexia or discalcula,I was reminded recently. Would the GED people be as upset by that as Secretary Spellings is?

I agree that the new SAT has caused an incredible amount of confusion at the University level. As a public institution, we are even more susceptible to these issues due to the reports that the State Office of the President requires. I anticipate that it will be at least 3-5 years before the dust fully settles from these new changes.

I am firmly in support of the new SAT and believe that it will be appreciated once everyone figures out what to do with it and how to interpret it. Having taught Freshman Composition at a respectable private university, I can attest to the fact that most students come to college unable to write and completely unprepared for critical thinking and analysis necessary for college level work. The new SAT puts pressure on teachers to teach writing. I believe this is why the test was changed in the first place. I can attest to the fact that many English teachers refuse to do the job they signed on to do because it is "too much work."

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Recent Comments

  • Marianne Crowley/English Dept. Chair, Quaboag Regional Middle/High School: I am firmly in support of the new SAT and read more
  • David English/Assistant Director of Admissions, Appalachian State University: I agree that the new SAT has caused an incredible read more
  • Peg Thompson Oliver, M.Ed., Dir., Coalition of Literacy Services: The GED has required an essay, as well as read more
  • Gabriel Thornton/Tutor and Assistant GM, Tutoring Division, Summit Educational Group: I work for Summit Educational Group, a company in New read more
  • Paul Koutnik: The issues raised in Carol Abbott's questions are probably the read more




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