Opinion
Education Opinion

It All Sounds So Nice: David Coleman at the College Admission Conference

By Peter Gow — September 20, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

So, I’m a little confused.

I’m at the National Association for College Admission Counseling annual conference in Toronto, where on Thursday afternoon I spent about an hour listening to David Coleman, president of the College Board. He talked about the Board, where it’s going, and about the revised SAT, due to consume (presumably) our students’ Saturday mornings some time starting in 2015.

Lately the College Board has been putting a lot of its energy, and certainly a great deal of its rhetoric, into what seems like a rebranding, or at least a shift in brand emphasis. They’re all about access, now--it’s a word Coleman repeated numerous times.

And on the surface it sounded pretty good. I found myself tweeting Coleman one-liners, and even I couldn’t tell whether I was being ironic when I shared goodies like his suggestion that the new SAT, to be built around “curriculum-driven achievement tests,” is “an aspiration fulfilled.” He kind of implied it was our aspiration, a room full of college counselors and college admission folks. Is it, though? The dehumanizing aspects of the college admission process, about which Mr. Coleman worries, came up, and he wondered aloud, “How can we restore that humanity?” I wonder myself. He even said, the head of the outfit that gave the world mass standardized testing (and the idea that a test can be a singular measure of something important, like a kid’s worthiness to be a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist), “We don’t need more tests [for kids], we need more opportunities.” OK. And his closer: “Our commitment is not to to an exam, it’s to delivering opportunity to kids.” Wow. ‘Cause they sure deliver a lot of exams, too.

The potential of the new SAT induced a kind of giddiness. “The revised SAT ought to be a celebration of students’ finest work.” Yes, indeed-y, if we must have such a thing. It should “open roads to equity and excellence.” Of course! It’ll be an “open-er SAT that celebrates much more clearly the work students need to do in the first year of college.” I began to think, When this thing is launched, beware of being smothered by falling balloons or skewered by an errant skyrocket. Thursday’s edition of Coleman-speak was colorful, enthusiastic, and empathetic. I began to wonder whether I had been missing something all along; neither the College Board nor the Common Core, Mr. Coleman’s previous enterprise, are generally the stuff of such warm fuzzies.

There was some push-back in the room. A retired school counselor from Maryland stated that “in Montgomery County we close school after spring vacation. After that, all we do is test.” Some pointed questions were asked, one about whether schools that create barriers to Advanced Placement course enrollment are really so much about access, others about the time (and stamina) it takes to sit the test. Coleman hopes that the new SAT will be a test “that allows [students] to breathe.” And what about the notorious 25-minute essay, widely regarded as rewarding formulaic writing rather than considered, evidence-based exposition? Coleman shared a vision of a writing test requiring a response to a specific reading. He did not, however, respond directly to a question whether the new SAT will, like the forthcoming revision of the ACT, be offered on line.

In the end it was a lot to consider, or perhaps not very much at all. The revised SAT will be what it will be, and it will have the effect of narrowing certain parameters for many teachers; the more so if it is built around the Common Core, which seems so likely as to appear inevitable. For some teachers and maybe even students this narrowing will be felicitous, clarifying and defining, but for others it will feel like one more nail in the body of spontaneous, student-driven, and student-centered teaching. But that’s what standardized testing has always done--honoring external expectations and standards rather than the spirit of the child.

I guess that’s where Thursday’s presentation, for all Mr. Coleman’s warmth and passion, fell short for me, although I so want to see it differently. If the College Board’s core mission is “delivering opportunity,” I understand that there’s something useful, something absolutely essential, in making sure that every kid in every school has the chance to show and then fulfill his or her highest potential. If test scores can open doors, then let them be opened.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that standardized test scores don’t feel to the vast majority of kids or to most teachers as though they unlock the doors of opportunity. There are kids whose fates are sealed by testing, and I don’t mean just the kids whose 710s keep them out of Princeton. Ask any kid whose “failing” school was closed or defunded based on test scores; ask their (former) teachers.

So here’s what I want to understand differently than I do: Can the College Board, riding the pale horse of testing, really be the knight in shining armor that Mr. Coleman seems to want it to be? Can the College Board create a testing regime that will truly honor the spirit of each individual student, that will truly (in Coleman’s words) celebrate “students’ finest work” even as it restores “humanity” to the college admissions process? I want to feel the giddiness, but it’s hard.

But if they can pull it off, I’ll be the first one to stand up and cheer like crazy.

Engage with Peter on Twitter: @pgow

The opinions expressed in Independent Schools, Common Perspectives are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP