Monday, March 26, 2007

Don't Just Ignore It, Kill It

See today's Inside Higher Ed for a report on a talk given at CCCC by MIT's Les Perelman about how he coached a student to get a score of 5 on the new essay portion of the SAT:

While many colleges have said that they don’t think the new essay adds much (and many institutions that use other parts of the SAT don’t use the writing scores), Perelman issued a “call to arms” for educators to not just ignore the essay, but to try to kill it. “It does harm,” he said repeatedly in his talk, which was illustrated with slides (received with chuckles and applause by the audience) comparing the College Board to snake oil salesmen. Mixing metaphors a bit, Perelman said colleges must “chase the money changers from the temple” of higher education.

The essay is harming students, Perelman said, because it rewards formulaic writing that views the world as black and white, isn’t based on any facts, and values a few fancy vocabulary words over sincerity. He also said that while most college instructors work to “deprogram” students from the infamous “five paragraph essay” they learned in high school, the SAT test reinforces that approach. Perelman and others noted that the problem isn’t limited to the time students spend actually taking the SAT, but that many students devote months or years of study with coaching services to learning how to write the way the College Board wants — and with students fearful that a poor score will hurt their chances of college admission, they focus on that kind of writing.

1 comment:

mmoore said...

Let me add a bit to this one. If you were around in the early eighties, our journals were full of positivistic writing research on a number of areas. I really think some of this research was very effective but now largely ignored. One area that a number of researchers worked on was the kind writing elicited by various prompts especially for student placement in writing courses. A by-product of this research was concentrated study on effective student writing. I've visited the SAT writing site and none of this research was cited. I am thinking of work done by Hoetker, Brossell, Greenberg, Kinzer & Murphy among others. I personally don't care if we kill the SAT writing component, but I do care that good research is going to waste.