Saturday, January 26, 2013

SAT Rant

My 17 year old took the SAT today. He's planning to take Latin at the local university this summer and during his senior year next year, so it was time for the test.

He prepped a little. He practiced some essays and reviewed a bit of math. The multiple choice English wasn't a worry. But the essay. Oh, the essay.

Bethany, our oldest was lucky. She took the SAT before the addition of the very subjective, all-too-often-PC essay. Our second, Patrick, had to write it. His handwriting may have been his downfall, but he scored a three out of six, predicting the mediocrity of his college writing. Those who know Patrick are laughing now. He is an excellent writer. He has style. And he knows his stuff. But that doesn't necessarily translate well into a five paragraph formulaic essay on the social value of reality TV.

Jonathan did a little better. And he's writing well in college. But was there really any value in his essay score? Or in the pile of practice essays he wrote expounding on one fluffy topic after another? I doubt it.

Andrew wrote his today. He is sworn to secrecy by the college board on what the topic was, but every single past question has required the student to take a position on some inane question. It wants the student to write a very specific kind of essay of a sort that only a few people are really good at, without extensive coaching. And what is the point of that? What does it demonstrate?

Of course, I have issues with the value of standardized testing anyway. But this one element, graded by some teacher who never will meet these students, evaluating answers to some boring question, written to try only to fill a template, seems to me the least valuable of all. Writing isn't something that should fit in a box. The best writing has style and personality. It is built on knowledge or on having something to say.

We'll know in a few weeks how Andrew's writing stacked up. But, frankly, I don't really care what some anonymous grader thinks. I already know Andrew's strengths and weaknesses. I know that he is perfectly capable of writing a readable piece that gets his point across. We've jumped through the hoops. Now back to spending his time in a worthwhile manner.


mom said...

I love you so much!!!

Elephantschild said...

When I first heard they were adding an essay portion to the SAT, I thought, well, fine. Too many kids can't even write complete sentences by the time they're 18.

But of course, you're right. Being able to spit out some PC platitudes is no measure of whether a person can organize thoughts well enough to put together a 15 page college paper.

And a 15 page college paper is no measure of whether a person can think critically or research a topic appropriately, either, come to think of it.

Corinne Johnson said...

A better SAT essay question would be something like, "Why do you want to go to college?" If you can't answer that, you probably don't even need to take the SAT.

Jane said...

Corinne, that would at least give the question some purpose, wouldn't it?