Education is Infuriating

Why can't schools treat high school students who aren't at an advanced level like smart kids with opinions, with things to say?

I have spent the past two days attending various panels at The College Board's annual AP Forum (for work). The conference was about 99% teachers, guidance counselors, and college admissions reps, and, oh, me...the lone evil Kaplanite lurking around for test prep ideas to steal more money from high school students. Whatever. Apparently, all teachers, guidance counselors, and college admissions reps are from the Midwest and wear a lot of khaki and bad shoes. And Halloween-themed scarves and pins.

By FAR the most interesting panel was this afternoon's Response to the New SAT -- a group of 4 students, a parent, a guidance counselor, and a College Board member. You probably have heard or read by now that the College Board has overhauled the SAT. It now has math up to Algebra 2, no more Quantitative Comparison questions (A is bigger, B is bigger, C if they're equal...), no more analogies, and a lot more reading passages, long and small. Most importantly, the test now has a writing section -- one 25-minute essay and a ton of multiple choice grammar questions. 1600 is a thing of the past -- 2400 is the new measuring stick.

The new Essay has received the most press by far. The students on the panel, new SAT guinea pigs, were fascinating. I thought it was a little strange when they kept comparing writing the SAT Essay to writing their college admissions essay. They brought this up several times -- "When you write your college admissions essay, you get time to revise; on the SAT you have to be, like, perfect in, like, 25 minutes. The guy who wrote The Great Gatsby rewrote the first page of his book, like 50 times, no joke. I've rewritten my college essay so many times already." And so on. Finally, this horrific fact became clear -- for two of the students on the panel, the college admissions essay was the FIRST TIME they had been asked to write in high school. The first time. For the other 2, they had only had to write an essay for their AP classes, when practicing for exam-type free-response questions.

The panel's guidance counselor, against the SAT Essay as a standardized test item, offered this: "Schools don't teach students how to write. They teach them how to take tests. If the SAT asks you to write an essay after never learning how to write, a student has no idea how to perform well."

And, the more upsetting: "Students know how to pick A), B), C), or D). In high schools' minds, you go to college to learn how to write."

Ugh! It's atrocious that teachers do not use writing regularly in their curriculum. I'm not naive -- i know essays and short/long answer tests are an absolute bitch to grade. But if this tiny sampling of students has not been asked to express themselves through writing in 11 years of education...well what kind of college students will they be? Also, what confidence will they have in their skills with they arrive in college? AP/Honors kids are the only ones being asked to write, and that's because a damn test demands them to as part of their score. The Smart Kids aren't the only ones who need a challenge, damnit. Students rise to the level you expect from them. Make students free write every morning. Ask them to write history from the point of view of a soldier, a president, a slave. Ask them to write what they think about evolution. Make them tell you why THEY give a shit about things, what riles THEM up. Kids love to hear themselves talk -- let them feel like they have different and important things to say. Teach them how to express this on paper. Watch them maybe (MAYBE) get excited when they make a point that sparks a class discussion.

By grade 11 or 12, banging out a short, persuasive 25-minute response to a quote should be second nature. Maybe, since the Essay is now a requirement for the SAT, schools will force teachers to add more writing to their lesson plans.

I know this is all too easy for me say, as I'm not a teacher or in any way part of the system. But it seems simple enough to do, bit by bit.


  1. Cool, you figured out how to do italics.

  2. It's not so hard a thing, in truth. I had to write all through high school, and even got pretty good at banging out essays in 25 minutes right before they were due in class. It's sick that this comes as asuch a surprise to kids now, too bad these ones won't be getting into uni...


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