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Sunday, October 19, 2014

The SATization of Learning and Life

The chief architect of the Common Core, David Coleman, has served as the president of the College Board.  From where he stands, tests surely look beautiful as the best measures of humankind.

I am sure many of us have vivid memories of SAT time...probably not happy memories.  I settled on the cheap option of purchasing an SAT review book.  I looked at lists of words that began with the letter A.  I love words in context, in real life, in literature, in film, but I disdain long lists of words one feels obligated to memorize.  I didn't get much past the As, and AB..., at that; yet, I survived.  And to this day, I wish I could have ABSTAINED from the test.  I ABHOR SATs.  The time spent studying was ABYSMAL and a personal ABASEMENT.  And,  by the way, I would have had all the above words in my vocabulary without the SATs!

I didn't take classes for the SATs, but I remember many of my peers went to Stanley Kaplan.  It was generally accepted that if you wanted to make it into the best schools, you needed a near perfect score.  And, I knew people who got perfect scores and they all had parents pushing them and they all went to SAT classes.  They were smart, but the intensive test prep made them appear to be geniuses. 

If one took the SATs twice (of course, there were costs incurred), one was pretty much guaranteed to improve one's scores.  So, I took the SAT twice and most everyone took the SAT twice.  I didn't become much smarter in the months between the two testing dates, but you would never know that from the scores.  As one gained familiarity with the types of questions asked, one could rake in more points as the College Board raked in more money.  

When it came time to take my Graduate Record Exam, I decided there would be no playing around.  I took a Stanley Kaplan GRE course at Queens College.  I still remember marveling at one question about airplanes and a certain number of passengers, and so many wearing green shirts, with birthdays in July, spaced so many seats apart from others with birthdays in February and November, wearing yellow and orange shirts.  When learning is detached from anything of real or practical interest to me, my preference is to fly elsewhere.  That summer, I grit my teeth to bear it and I did well.  Witness the fact that I only took the test once!  

My school once gave Stanley Kaplan a contract to come to our building to do professional development.  As I sat in the class, watching the representative from Stanley Kaplan try to conduct a class lesson with Do Now and all, I very quickly started to compile in my mind a whole list of suggestions for improvement.  It began with shortening the Do Now to considerably less time.  Then, there were other errors, inaccuracies, a flurry of handouts that missed the mark and so much else that showed this "teacher" had barely got his toes wet in any real classroom.  After that day of sessions with Stanley Kaplan, our contract was speedily canceled. 

I know the SAT has been recently redesigned, but I am still far from filled by confidence.  So, I wonder what kind of world we are creating for students when the love of learning and inquiry are replaced by people who see tests as the best measure of student quality and test prep a necessary and admirable aspect of academia.  I would say we have turned education on its head.  So, much of the information I learned for the tests was of little interest or value to me outside of the test.  I probably haven't used many of those skills since.  I know it's somewhere in my brain and I might be a better person for it, but I kind of doubt it.  I'm sorry to think that given the emphasis on high-stakes Common-Core tests, elementary-school students are witnessing the SATization of learning and life.  Such is the price of "college and career readiness" in an age of educational deformity.  

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