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"New SAT" Presents Troubling Scenario

February 22, 2004

By Charles R Lewis

In an earlier article, this writer reported some pending radical changes to the ubiquitous sat exam, changes being engineered by the college board's president, ex-politico Gaston Caperton.

That piece reviewed the new exam's various innovations and in many cases criticized them. particularly disquieting was Caperton's expressed desire to establish a national curriculum - one, if Caperton's close ties to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley (along with several other indicators) were of any significance, that would likely mirror the alarming guidelines within Goals 2000 and its progeny, the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). A related source for concern involved a new essay portion, with its potential for abuses based on political positions (expressed in such essays) with which graders might not concur.

Apprehension centered on the likelihood that essays would require testees to express opinions on contentious political issues. As this aspect of the planned essay portion had not been spelled out, one held out hope that the exam's authors might studiously avoid such issues and focus instead, say, on business letters, short story-style prose, or perhaps a choice among commentary on sports, fashion, cars, music, or any of a host of innocuous topics.

A look at a new college board publication ("what students will ask about the new sat - a pocket guide for counselors") answers this speculation succinctly:

Page 2: "students will write an essay that requires them to take a position on an issue and use examples to support their position."

Page 13: "the essay question will ask you to take a position on an issue and support it persuasively with examples from your studies and experience."

The pamphlet stipulates that photocopies of essays will be provided to all universities to which a given testee submits his sat results in the application process.

This represents the first time on such a universal exam that test takers will be required to report personal opinions on sensitive subjects - opinions that they may understandably wish to keep private or divulge only to those to whom they choose to divulge them.

Possibilities for abuse are multiple. First, since the principal value on which an essay is to be graded is persuasiveneess, a grader who disagrees with the position of a writer can justify the awarding of a low grade on the basis of not being persuaded. The prevailing one- sided political orientation of American university staffs offers countless examples of students censured or graded down for expressing politically incorrect views. The new sat will provide a means (even independent of sat graders' biases) for schools to eliminate such thinkers beforehand.

But a more chilling concern focuses on the privacy issue. The college board (a politician-run organization) will now possess a national document bank detailing political views of nearly every us college applicant - views obtained under coercion, since no SAT generally means no college.

This audacious departure from both tradition and propriety appears to be step three in a process of politicization of our youth. It follows on the heels of:

  • NCLB's imposition in its national standards of a "new civics" curriculum that denigrates such values as national sovereignty, national citizenship, unalienable rights, and the superiority of the American system, and
  • "Service learning" and similar programs that, according to considerable research, seek to mandate participation by all us students in thinly veiled political activist programs adhering to the new civics ideology.

    The new SAT will give operatives the opportunity to weed out those students able to filter through such obstacles unscathed. In Castro's Cuba, such renegades would be sent to re-education camps or prison. In the wrong hands here, who knows?

    It would appear that big brother keenly wants to know "what's up" in the minds of our freer thinking youth. Maybe the college board can be pressured to eschew mandatory issues-related essays. If not, a nationwide boycott of the new SAT is a virtual imperative.

    Charles Lewis
    Former director of studies
    World Public Charter School
    Washington, DC

    [Charles Lewis is a former mathematics department chairman and charter school head who has authored several textbooks in the areas of mathematics and phonics.]

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