A story in today's Inside Higher Ed
reports that SAT scores are down - "there was a four-to-five point decline, on average, comparing scores this year to last, excluding the new writing test," according to the IHE
story. The College Board is insisting that the tests are valid; some of the college and univ. officials quoted in the story are distressed because they're placing students in "support" programs based on their scores and finding that they 'don't need to be there.'
Perhaps, if we're lucky, this will be one more strike against the College Board - fingers are crossed on that one. Meanwhile, the fingers of the College Board are *everywhere*. Sure, they have the SAT. They also have COMPASS (or ACCUPLACER - I can't remember which one), an odious and irresponsible test used for placement at the college level (the writing version is heavy on the grammar). My institution doesn't use it (over my laid out and screaming body, in fact), but a fair number of community colleges do. They're also marketing curriculum at the K-12 level, as is ACT. And of course, the College Board is also behind The National Commission on Writing
, whose reports have been criticizing the writing abilities of nearly everyone - students, workers, government workers -- and, coming soon, writing in universities (see earlier post on the NASULGC survey). The National Writing Project has representation on the National Commission on Writing, thankfully, so there's at least the potential for some sanity there. Nevertheless, I see it as another effort by the CB to in part generate the kind of 'news' that justifies their work through/with their testing, curriculum, and marketing efforts.
All of this makes me think even more about my recent involvement with a group here in Michigan that was charged with re-writing the secondary (7-12) content standards for English Language Arts in Michigan
. This group was incredibly ably chaired by my colleague Rebecca Sipe, who did an unbelievable job navigating us through some very tumultuous waters. The state of Michigan has signed on with The American Diploma Project
, a project of the right-wing educational foundation Achieve.org
. Their goal is to standarize curriculum and grade-level testing across schools and, eventually, across states. Our Michigan committee, a terrifically smart group of people from whom I learned an enormous amount, worked to balance the draconian Achieve/ADP standards with what we knew to be best practices for teachers and students. We rejected the fundamental premises of the ADP standards - the assumptions about what reading and writing were in those standards simply did (/does) not reflect the actual experience of any teachers that any of us had encountered, nor our own experience as teachers.
Through the ADP process, the standards are 'reviewed' by university-level "experts" and business leaders (because that's what we're about in education, right? Getting people ready for business? We are in the ADP vision...) in separate sessions. The university feedback session (of which I was also a part) was enlightening, to say the least. There were a group of very angry people in that room - not angry about the content standards, which we all agreed were pretty good, but angry about the ADP standards to which the MI standards were supposed to be tied. They also rejected the ways that reading and writing were cast there. It was an interesting moment... one person, a lit professor (from I'm not sure where), said of the ADP standards something like, "I'm a pretty conservative guy, but these standards make me look like Michael Foucault." We also were supposed to 'match' the MI standards with ACT standards, since Michigan is moving toward using the ACT as a state assessment (rather than our current tests, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP) - and, at least for writing/English language arts, those are even more draconian.
Anyway - thanks to the hard work of the authoring group and Becky Sipe's extremely able leadership, Michigan's current content standards are pretty okay, I think. But apparently when they were rolled out to teachers and administrators last week, the state Board of Ed chair was also talking about developing the grade-level tests that would go with them. Not sure how that will work... and not sure what's ahead for all of this. It also will start affecting us at the college level sooner or later.
The problem: the ways that these stories, discussions, etc. frame "writing" and "reading" runs counter to everything that we know about writing and reading and the ways people learn them. Of course, that's the topic of the OMB, and I won't go into that here. Still, some things to think about as I move through life...