SAT essay section: Problems with grading, instruction, and prompts.

In my freshman writing courses I work hard to convince students that many of the strategies that helped them get by in high school simply won’t lead to college-level work. For instance, I actually read their drafts, ask probing questions about their goals, options, and strategic choices, and then expect their revisions to follow up on that feedback.

I had high school English teachers who worked some drafting and revision into term paper and creative writing projects, but that’s incredibly labor intensive for a teacher with 120 students. I have the luxury of teaching fewer students at a time, and that changes the nature of the writing assignment, and the nature of the feedback I give. I tell my students that any time a teacher gives them feeedback and lets them revise, the teacher has just quadrupled his or her workload. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s fairly easy to triage a stack of papers and assign each one a grade. It’s much harder to provide specific, encouraging, and challenging suggestions to help a student improve.

MIT’s Les Perelman on the writing portion of the SAT:

20131011-112833.jpg“What they are actually testing,” he says, “is the ability to bullshit on demand. There is no other writing situation in the world where people have to write on a topic that they’ve never thought about, on demand, in 25 minutes. Lots of times we have to write on demand very quickly, but it’s about things we’ve thought about. What they are really measuring is the ability to spew forth as many words as possible in as short a time as possible. It seems like it is training students to become politicians.” SAT essay section: Problems with grading, instruction, and prompts..

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