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New SAT Essay Is Controversial

I'm no fan of the SAT, as readers of this column know.  But I think criticism of the new optional essay misses the point  ("Why the New SAT Essay Is Bad News," Education News, Apr. 27).  It maintains that when students are asked to analyze a given text, without being able to express an opinion about what was written, the results are unavoidably boring.

Yet I doubt their essays would be much more interesting if students were permitted to express their opinions.  How likely is it that non-professional writers can produce a riveting essay on an unfamiliar topic in a brief time period even if they could state their opinions?  Without time to research a given subject, the best they would come up with would be a trite essay.  It takes time and thought to write anything compelling about a controversial topic.  Working journalists who are responsible for the editorials published in mainstream newspapers don't knock out their pieces in one hour.  They devote far more time.  And don't forget that they are professionals.

Writing under pressure is de rigueur for journalists. But high school seniors shouldn't be expected to do the same on a test that is an unreliable predictor of their subsequent performance in college.  I've been writing exclusively about education for newspapers and magazines around the globe since 1992.  As a result, if I were given a text about education to critically analyze, I would be in a much better position to do so than if I were given a text about, say, a scientific breakthrough. How can we expect high school seniors to write anything more impressive?

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