The College Board's decision to switch the SAT back to a 1,600-point scale, make the essay portion of the test optional and make other changes is further evidence of:
A) The dumbing down of America.
B) The diminishing importance of good writing skills, proper grammar and a robust vocabulary to most Americans.
C) The irrelevance of the Scholastic Aptitude Test as a means of fairly assessing college readiness.
D) Testing experts are finally getting something right.
E) None of the above.
You'll be forgiven if you miss this one. We're struggling with it ourselves. Our inclination is to follow many of our writing brethren and go with the simple answer (A) or its more acute cousin (B). Both offer emotionally satisfying, albeit flawed, explanations.
However, in the final analysis, we really don't believe that America, still the world's leader in innovation, is getting dumber, nor do we believe that the actions of the College Board speak for anything other than the members of the College Board. Thus, given the caveat that if any part of the answer is incorrect than the whole answer is incorrect, we're forced to move on to other possibilities.
Many would find C an attractive, catch-all answer. After all, who is going to stand up and defend the SAT as a true predictor of who will succeed and who will not at the college level? The test is more of a microscope in examining an individual's reasoning capabilities than a telescope in projecting one's future.
All the same, colleges and even some employers are not ready to abandon using test scores, including the SAT, as a measure in determining future students and employees. As Winston Churchill once said of democracy, it's the worst form of testing, except for all the others that have been tried.
Thus, is it possible that the answer is actually D? This would certainly appear to be true, at least in respects to the essay, which became part of the SAT less than a decade ago.
Almost from the beginning, the essay has been a magnet for further criticism of the exam. Critics questioned how much could really be determined in terms of writing skills and critical thinking given that students had less than 30 minutes to write without a requirement that any evidence used to support a thesis is actually true. In addition, the essay was graded in such a way that those who wrote more and used big words scored better than those who offered both clarity and brevity — better indicators of superior writing.
But the jury is still out on these changes, which include eliminating testing students on their knowledge of obscure vocabulary words and being penalized for inaccurate guesses. Instead, students will be presented with an optional essay in which they will be asked to explain and critique the arguments contained in a specified written passage.
All things being equal, we would have preferred to see the essay portion expanded and improved rather than eliminated. The same could be said of the vocabulary portion. But at this point, the logical answer appears to be E, that the right answer will only really become apparent over time, after the new SAT is put to the test.