The “new SAT” with its writing test rolled out yesterday. There are a boatload of articles out there in the press–for example, see NCTE’s “InBox” articles for this week and this post at Number 2 Pencil. Friday morning’s version of “Morning Edition” featured Steve “you’re not Bob Edwards” Inskeep trying out one of the writing prompts (with a computer, he points out). There was a big front page article in the local Ann Arbor News, and I’m guessing there was a big front page article in your local newspaper, too.
One interesting and off the beaten path article I read was “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Dave Goldenberg. It’s in something called “Gelf Magazine,” which seems to me to really just be a collaborative blog. Anyway, Goldenberg is writing from the perspective of someone who used to be a SAT tutor/coach, and he has a couple of interesting observations that I haven’t read elsewhere. First off, Goldenberg argues that the cause of the “changes” in the SAT actually come from Richard Atkinson, who was (until 2003) President of the University of California system, and who was threatening to dump the SAT unless they did something to improve it. I hadn’t heard that one before, but given the size of the California system, this makes some sense.
Second, Goldenberg is convinced that the test is very coachable, even though the College Board claims otherwise, and the writing portion of the test is the most coachable part of all:
[T]he new writing section (read: a barely modified old writing SAT II) is perhaps the most coachable of any part of any SAT, including all of the SAT II subject tests. (Another ICR survey found that students who received Princeton Review tutoring on their Writing SAT II raised their scores an average of 137 points. Comparable preparation on other SAT II subject tests yielded an increase of around 80 points). A colleague of mine in New York claimed that if given six months’ time, he could help any student get an 800 on the writing test, regardless of the student’s previous score, even 500 or lower. Some of my students also gained about 300 points on the writing test.
Given the prompts I’ve seen, this makes a lot of sense to me. If I were to “coach/teach” test takers, I would be sure to hammer home the idea of writing in a very clear paragraph form (not necessarily a 5 paragraph essay, but something like it), and I would get students to memorize one or two generic “life anecdotes” they could use to frame their essay. I’d recommend this because the prompts seem general enough to allow this sort of “boiler plate” application, and because I think it would read pretty well for evaluators. It seems to me that you don’t want too generic of a 5 paragraph essay, one that begins “In society today;” on the other hand, it also seems to me that you can’t be too creative or take too many risks. Oh yeah– and work on the handwriting, too.
Of course, none of this is “writing” per se. Sharon Crowley talked about this a lot better than I can years and years ago, but essentially, this kind of writing is really filling out a form. But that’s what the test is asking for, isn’t it?
Anyway, I’ve read and written enough about things leading up to the test. What I want to read now are stories/accounts from folks who actually took the test. When all is said and done, I’m curious about how it went.