Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Hart/Rudman Security Report and Education

Frontline...PBS news documentary about SAT secrets

The NYT ran a recent letter from the former Senators concerning our security and they wisely point out the neccessity of improving educational standards:

"Americans are living off the economic and security benefits of the last three generations' investment in science and education, but we are now consuming our capital.

"Our systems of basic scientific research and education are in crisis, while other countries are redoubling their efforts.

"In the next quarter century, we will likely see ourselves surpassed, and in relative decline, unless we make a conscious national commitment to maintain our edge."

Bill Gates wants to import Chinese and Indian computer experts because they get trained over there and he doesn't like American ones (too uppity?). Hart and Rudman think this is a bad thing and they want improvements at home, instead.

Well, the SAT system has decided to make reforms and look at the ruckus these small changes are making:

A professional organization representing 60,000 teachers of English criticized the new essay portion of the SAT as a poor predictor of how well students will perform in college and expressed concern that it could encourage mediocre, formulaic writing.

The report by the National Council of Teachers of English comes as half a million students prepare to take the SAT this weekend. The standardized test, part of the entrance requirements for many colleges, was expanded this year to include a writing and essay section in response to criticism from leading educators, including the president of the University of California, that it was too narrow in scope and discriminated against minority students.

Upon rereading the article what strikes me is how little sense it all makes.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, attacked the report as "elitist." College Board spokeswoman Chiara Coletti noted that six of seven members of the task force are college professors rather than high school English teachers.

"It is very condescending," Coletti said, arguing that the new SAT will help focus attention on writing skills in the "many classrooms in this country where very little writing is taught."

First, it seems that college professors are attacking the SAT essay section? Huh? Why is that? I remember college. I took the SAT three days after arriving in America and not using the English language for a year. I got a near perfect score. If you scored high, you didn't have to take the huge remedial English writing classes. Out of curiosity, I went to some of them with a friend. "Why don't they teach these courses in high school?" I stupidly asked.

Welllll..because the classes were not divided up between the college bound and the ones who didn't want to read at all except if a gun was put to their heads. So the compromise was to have everyone do minimal work.

I wrote essays constantly in German in Germany. When I came home, I was a writing fanatic. It was fun to do. I found the SAT questions to be bizarre. Even the contextual parts were minimal. Being able to write clearly is a skill that can and should be judged and it is easy to grade.

Which brings me back to computers. The SAT should be taken on a computer. It should involve seeking information skills, utilizing information and integrating information in a proper, university style format. In other words, you prove you know how to write a short paper complete with footnotes and citations. This can easily be taught in school.

Literature: we waste a great deal of time in high school on teaching people how to read novels and poems. Up until recently humans wrote and read novels and poems FOR FUN. It was a leisure activity. Not work. Still is, in my books. Using old poems and novels as windows into the past is good only if you are trying to understand society and history and as a person who avoided taking courses in these things when younger, I assure everyone, you can pick up an amazing amount of information all by yourself by using history books and pictures while reading books written long ago.

Now you know why no college will hire me. Ahem.

All SAT tests should be conducted on computers and can be easily supervised and judging the materials can be easily done: YOU SEND THE RESULTS TO THE SCHOOLS. In other words, let the universities and colleges look directly at the materials and decide if it is up to their standards or if the student is someone they want! Wow. Talk about simple. No grades. No hoop jumping. No filtering.

This will force highschools into a new way of functioning. The whole point of our pointless childish activities there was to teach us how to produce stuff colleges want and need. Yet high schools, nearly universally, refuse to do this. They won't make kids write. Too much work for everyone. Much easier to grade those "a/b/c/d" multiple choice questions.

Multiple choice, when I was in school in Germany, didn't exist there at all. You had to write down the formulas and calculate the answers, no shots in the dark guessing. You had to write, not choose answers. It worked.

I won't see this happen here in my lifetime because everyone, absolutely everyone in the system from first grade on upwards is addicted to this easy, destructive methodology. Writing is fun. I do it every day without effort. Pratice makes perfect. Before computers, it was much harder. Correcting my errors is now a breeze so I take the plunge and write...onwards! Upwards! To the barricades!

The pen is mightier than the multiple choice.

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