SAT Writing Prompt–change of policy?

imagesAs someone who has been teaching English grammar and writing skills for several decades, I am quite cognizant of the importance of effective communication. Therefore, I applauded the addition of the writing component to the SAT in 2005.  After all, having mastery of the language is a prerequisite for not only for academic success but also for professional advancement.  The current mandatory SAT writing sample provides admissions officers with an unadulterated sample of a student’s writing ability.  David Coleman, current College Board president, obviously disagrees with that assertion. This is the penultimate year for the 2400 point test. Its tenth anniversary in 2015 will also be its last.  Mr. Coleman recently announced his dissatisfaction with the state of the current exam.  He proposed that the writing sample of the “newer, improved” version of the SAT will be optional (just like the ACT) Why this reversal?

In my attempt to discover some reasons for the change, I did some research. To my surprise, I discovered a 2008 paper published by the College Board itself that validates my contention.  I’ve included a direct quotation from the College Board’s own Research Report 2008-5. Validity of theSAT® for Predicting First-Year College Grade Point Average.  ”The results show that the changes made to the SAT did not substantially change how well the test predicts first-year college performance. Across all institutions, the recently added writing section is the most highly predictive of the three individual SAT sections. As expected, the best combination of predictors of first-year grade point average (FYGPA) is high school grade point average (HSGPA) and SAT scores. The College Board continues to encourage institutions to use both measures when making admissions decisions.”  This seems like an educationally valid reason to maintain the writing sample.

So,  other (unpublished) factors are obviously at work here.  Perhaps losing market-share to the ACT for the first time last year  was a consideration. Could David Coleman’s involvement as one of the architects of the Common Core have any connection to his decision?  Or maybe eliminating payment to so many essay “readers” will assist the College Board’s bottom line?  This appears to be more a financial decision than an educational one.

Oh, by the way, I do hope that eliminating the vocabulary section does not contribute to an additional “dumbing down” of the test. Sometimes “SAT words” are simply more appropriate and descriptive than “everyday words.” Shouldn’t educated individuals be able to sustain oral and written communication above a sixth grade level?


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