May 4, 2005

The College Board thinks this post should be longer.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at May 4, 2005 3:27 PM

PZ Myers is stunned by the stupidity of the new SAT writing test. An MIT professor studied the sample essays provided by the College Board, and determined that the length of an essay was the best predictor of its score, and that students were not penalized for incorrect facts.

I am not at all surprised by this; I expected something like this as soon as I heard they were adding a writing section to the test. Standardized writing tests suck, it's almost a law of nature. I don't think it's possible to come up with a grading scheme for something as subjective as writing that could apply broadly enough to be used on the SAT. So the grade ends up being based on length. And unless the essay topic is totally generic, the grader won't necessarily be an expert in it, so there's no way to fact-check consistently. Hence, allowing students to make shit up. I had to take several standardized writing tests while in the public school system, and they all had these problems. The SAT should leave this for the college application essays. (This is also one of the reasons I object to the overemphasis on standardized testing in the No Child Left Behind Act.)

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I am waiting for some large colleges to have the balls to say publicy we ignore the writting score please dont send it.

Of couse i suspect i will wait a awfully long time

Posted by: shellock | May 5, 2005 10:49 AM

I would like to make the statement broader by saying that _standardized tests suck_, and the writing stuff is an example of said suckage.

I do see your point, though. Many of the (or perhaps just some of the) standardized tests can indicate a _minimal_ level of competence, and the writing portion may fail to even do that.

As for how much standardized tests count, the typical thing at good institutions (and essentially all graduate programs in the sciences that count these things at all, as far as I can tell) is that any score between N and perfect is treated as the same.

(Of course, there are some programs that don't even care if you send in your score nowadays. They do care about TOEFL for foreign students, and a good test score may be used if you didn't go to a name brand university for undergrad, but it's a wash for anybody who goes to a good school unless you really blow it.)

Don't get me started on that act.

Posted by: Mason | May 5, 2005 12:16 PM

Shellock: That would be excellent. For a while Berkeley was talking about dropping the SAT entirely from admissions, but I don't know if they actually did it (and they kept the SAT II Writing in any case).

Mason: It seems to me that for things like basic math, standardized tests do ok, but anything complex or subjective doesn't work so well.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | May 5, 2005 4:16 PM

I think they only indicate _minimal_ competence even for math. Look at the level they actually test. If one only wants something that tells you someone can't handle certain things, than it's fair, but if somebody does one, we don't really know anything about what they can do beyond being able to take standardized tests.

Maybe I've just taught too many engineering students who have reasonable or even good math SAT scores, but (surprise, surprise) I'm really cynical when it comes to standardized tests---actually, I'm probably more cynical when it comes to standardized testing than I am about most other things and that's a pretty strong statement.

On that note, one of my students has managed to get a negative score on my final. Groan.... [Now I need to use something other than a d20 to determine my grades...]

I think I'm going to get a placard for my office that says "Turning engineers into management majors since 2002." (Management is the major at GT that is most notorious among the undergrads for being soft. Replace that with your favorite major at another university.)

I still have to figure out the grades, but now I won't have to grade anything for 2 years (possibly 1 year, but that will mean I will have gotten a tenure-track job I really want, so I'm ok with that).

Posted by: Mason | May 7, 2005 7:07 PM
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