Save the SAT Writing Test

Dear Friends,

An informative article in the Wall Street Journal written by Naomi Schaefer Riley. Ms. Riley is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Save the SAT Writing Test

 Princeton and Stanford last week became the latest schools to drop the SAT essay requirement. The College Board made the section optional in 2016. Skeptics will applaud this essay’s demise as a return to a test that measures real aptitude. But the essay, introduced in 2005, turned out to be useful. Ditching it is another plan by colleges to make all standards of admissions subjective and easily rigged.

The writing test began in 2005 in order “to improve the validity of the test for predicting college success,” according to the College Board. A pilot program found that “scores on the new SAT writing section were slightly better than high school grades in predicting first-year college grades.”

There were problems with the exam. One MIT professor found students were rewarded for sheer length. Another criticism was that it wasn’t graded on accuracy. Students could make factual errors, or make things up.

In 2014 the College Board revised the essay test, asking students to read a passage and then answer a question with a persuasive argument using evidence from the text. Test-takers, their parents and guidance counselors criticized this new approach as well. There was too little time. It stressed students out. It raised the cost of preparation and of the test itself.

Princeton cited cost as its reason for eliminating the exam. But taking the essay part of the test adds only $14 to the registration fee, and poor kids can get waivers.

It is true that 25 minutes is not much time to write an essay, but one can discern a few things about a student’s command of grammar, vocabulary and logic from three paragraphs. True, grading a writing test is more subjective than scoring a multiple-choice test. But writing is a real skill, and colleges should measure it.

How will schools discern a student’s writing ability now? Primarily through application essays or papers graded by high school teachers. In other words, the applicants who get help from adults at home and at school will have the advantage. Parents, teachers or counselors can suggest themes that will appeal to admissions officers (hardship, discrimination, fighting for social justice), advise on writing structure and vocabulary, and proofread final submissions.

This kind of coddling continues in college, where students are encouraged to make use of campus writing tutors and then expect professors to let them submit multiple drafts and get feedback before incurring a real grade. Result: According to a 2016 survey released by PayScale, 44% of managers think “writing proficiency is the hard skill lacking the most among recent college graduates.”

If colleges really wanted to reduce applicants’ stress and stop wasting time and money, they might ask students to submit the SAT writing section instead of an application essay. Forget about the College Board; send the essay to the school’s freshman composition teachers for grading. That would put everyone on more equal footing and tell colleges something useful about their applicants.

Respectfully,

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

What’s Wrong With Common Core Math?

Dear Friends,

Donna Garner a retired teacher and education activist, has shared this article.

This is one of the best articles yet because it clearly explains what is badly wrong with Common Core Math. Written by Jane Robbins, an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principals project. Robbins takes most of her comments from Barry Garelick’s book. Garelick is an experienced middle-school math teacher from California.  If anyone knows about what it is like to be “in the trenches” watching students struggle with the ridiculous Common Core Math approach, Garelick knows.

 “What’s Wrong With Common Core Math?”

To read the complete article, please go to:  https://townhall.com/columnists/janerobbins/2018/06/05/whats-wrong-with-common-core-math-n2487580

Excerpts from this article:

“A royal mess.” This is how California middle-school math teacher Barry Garelick describes math education today, especially under the Common Core national standards. In his bookMath Education in the U.S.: Still Crazy After All These Years, and his presentations, Garelick punctures the progressivist/reform math balloon that has long loomed over American schools like the Hindenburg.

When studying for a teacher’s certificate after retiring from his first career, Garelick found that education schools teach a progressivist “groupthink” about math. “Discovery learning” works best, he was taught, as students work collaboratively to puzzle out problems while teachers “facilitate” rather than teach. And as he learned later, Common Core reinforces this philosophy.

Garelick explains the difference between traditional and progressivist approaches to math instruction. With traditional math, the teacher uses direct instruction to present a logical sequence to the entire class, demonstrating the computations and then having the students practice them. Students memorize key facts and standard algorithms, thus freeing up working memory to tackle more advanced concepts, and master each step before proceeding.

Though the traditional approach is demonstrably successful, progressivist reformers have labored for decades to discredit it. As Garelick relates, they claim it produces “rote memorization” with no real understanding, doesn’t teach “critical thinking,” and is inadequate for 21st-century needs (reformers never explain why necessary math skills change from one century to the next). 

Garelick argues that the trash-talking is simply slander. Traditional textbooks from the 1950s and 1960s didn’t rely on “rote memorization” and did contain clear explanations of concepts before proceeding. 

But the post-Sputnik panic saw the denigration of traditional math in favor of “a whole new way to teach math” – discovery learning, “conceptual understanding” rather than facts, etc. When this new way flopped, the pendulum swung again in the 1970s, back to the traditional approach.

Then came the alarmist 1983 A Nation at Riskreport. In response, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (a reformist outfit founded in 1920) produced new standards that were advertised as – guess what? – “a whole new way to teach math.”

But of course, as Garelick explains, the new way looked a lot like the previous new ways that failed. NCTM urged use of calculators in all grades and downplayed complex pen/paper calculations, long division, and memorization of standard algorithms. Direct instruction was disdained in favor of teacher-as-facilitator. This set of standards became the model for many states and for practically all schools of education.

As this philosophy took hold in many parts of the country, hapless children had to practice time-consuming, inefficient alternative strategies for solving problems rather than master the algorithms first to free up working memory for experimentation later.

As Garelick puts it, “It’s the arithmetic equivalent of forcing a reader to keep his finger on the page, sounding out every word with no progression of reading skill.” And they had to explain their work in narrative paragraphs.

Garelick also addresses the progressivists’ requiring children to solve problems of a type they’ve never seen before, theoretically as a means of showing insight and understanding. Students struggle to figure this out (“productive struggle,”as touted by progressivists), much as a non-swimmer struggles to reach the side of the pool without drowning. Even if he survives, he likely still doesn’t know how to swim.

…For example, the emphasis on problem-solving and perseverance signals the swimming-pool approach, and the requirement to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others signals both group work and written explanations of computations. 

Even worse, Garelick says, is Common Core’s delay in teaching the standard algorithms until long after students are thoroughly confused by alternative approaches. And although the standards’ authors have publicly claimed that the algorithms may be taught earlier, most teachers will follow the dictates of the standards, especially when the all-important tests will assume that progression.

…And to the objections of the education establishment he simply responds: “Mistakes should not be clung to just because of the time spent making them.” 

Respectfully,

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com