Will South LA benefit from SAT upgrades?

Changes to the SAT, which will be implemented in Spring 2016, claim to make the test more accessible and might bring more to highly-ranked universities, such as USC. | Jordyn Holman

Changes to the SAT, which will be implemented in Spring 2016, claim to make the test more accessible and might bring more to highly-ranked universities, such as USC. | Jordyn Holman

Whenever the SAT gets revised, controversy trails close behind, especially regarding fairness across the board for test-takers from all backgrounds. Many educators have criticized the newest iteration of the test College Board announced this month, which is set to go into effect in two years. But some veteran educators are saying the revamped version holds promise.

Jennifer Hollie, who runs the college prep program for the Challengers Boys and Girls Club in South Los Angeles, feels optimistic about what the new format portends for students from disadvantaged communities.

“For [the College Board] to change the way the SAT is being written is a positive change,” said Hollie, who assists high school students from underserved communities with the college admission process by involving them in comprehensive programs.

“Even with my master’s degree I don’t always understand the words that they’re giving,” she said.

The revisions to the SAT include the elimination of obscure vocabulary words and the penalty for guessing wrong. It will also adapt the essay, which became mandatory in 2005, so that it is an optional test component, according to a College Board press release. The new SAT will have three sections, including reading and writing, math and the optional essay. It will be scored out of 1600 instead of 2400 points.  [Read more…]

New SAT still tough for minority and low-income students

SATThe SAT is getting another makeover and the College Board touts the test will be easier and more accessible to all students.

Unveiled last week, the standardized test will now contain more “relevant” vocabulary words, fewer math topics, an optional essay and an “evidence-based” reading and writing section. The Collage Board also promised that this test will give more minority and low-income students access to free online test prep resources and fee waivers.

But going back to a 1600-point scale, making an essay optional and offering more online classes won’t solve the access problems many of these students face when trying to take the test, some experts argue.

Click to hear their perspectives in an audio piece from Annenberg Radio News:

[Read more…]

OPINION: Standardized tests provoke students to fail

imageBy John Hankey

Listen to the audio here:

I teach 10th grade at Manual Arts High School and I have a few things to say about test scores.

1. Most importantly, where does good teaching come from? Does it descend from heaven like the Holy Spirit upon the heads of the chosen? Are we born with it? Or does it get taught? This whole discussion is based on blaming the teacher for bad test scores, rather than blaming the students. OK. We blame those responsible for guiding the students to become good test takers. But who teaches the teachers? Why do we not blame those responsible for guiding teachers to become good teachers? The responsibility is primarily that of administrators and schools of education. And there’s not a word about this, that I’ve seen, in any discussion of the topic. How is such glaring oversight of such a fundamental point possible? It’s laughable that the Los Angeles Times holds itself in such high regard, and misses such a fundamental point [see the “Value-Added” database, which rates teachers by their students’ test scores]; and it’s depressing that the school district — whose administrators hold such highly burnished credentials and get paid two and three times what I get — is similarly clueless.

2. The tests are horribly and deliberately flawed — skewed to measure test-taking ability rather than, for example, reading ability. Tenth graders take not only the CST, but the CAHSEE, and four periodic assessments. I always take the test while I’m monitoring, so I have some familiarity. The CST is the worst, putting many of the hardest questions in the first three or four questions. And the test is also jam-packed with questions that have four good answers or four bad answers, out of four possible answers. I often do not know what answer is intended as “correct,” and I’m an exceptionally good test taker. Putting the hardest questions at the beginning is designed to provoke struggling students to give up. And filling the tests with questions, the answer to which is clearly arbitrary and meaningless, is designed to provoke the stiff-necked critical thinkers into rebellion.

My students witness every day the ugly truth that the society they live in holds them in the lowest regard, has the lowest expectations for them, and in fact is poised, waiting for them to screw up so that they can be locked away behind bars. They walk into a building called “Manual Arts” for goodness sake! Our mascot is “the Toiler”, a guy in a paper hat holding a sledge hammer, or a mop, or a bag of burgers. OMG! And where are they to find the motivation to apply themselves to a test that has obviously been carefully designed, and implemented at phenomenal expense, to demean them? Of course the smartest of them rebel.

The test is also much longer than it needs to be to test ability in English. It becomes an endurance test — a measure of students’ ability to knuckle under and perform a meaningless, boring, and ugly job “because I said so.” It does, then, measure the docility of the students more than anything. And of course, students from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more docile. They have every reason to be. Their educational experience has not been 10 years of empty promises and degradation.

It would be possible to design a better test. It should be done. It should contain a brief test to determine reading level. And another to determine math. And it should then leave the kids the hell alone and stop wasting everyone’s time.

3. Because of these deliberate design flaws, and perhaps other features, the CST is an insanely flawed testing instrument. One teacher writing to the Times described how one her honors students went up 40 points, and another went down 50. She asked how the same students in the same classroom could have such wildly varied responses. Ten years ago, I made the same analysis of my students (the Times are so proud of themselves! I did the same comparison they did to see how my students were doing) and saw this wild, inexplicable swing. I was crushed. Until I did the same examination of another teacher’s scores, one who I, and everyone, greatly admired for her intelligence, organization, and commitment. And I observed the same wildly crazy swings among her students. It’s par for the course. And it’s the wrong course.

John Hankey teaches 10th grade at Manual Arts High School.