Reading & Literacy

NCTE Is Critical of New College-Admissions Essay Tests

By Vaishali Honawar — May 10, 2005 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

English teachers have taken their red pens to the new SAT and ACT writing tests, and they have some critical words not for the student writers but for the test-makers.

The National Council of Teachers of English says the writing tests on the college-entrance exams are unlikely to improve the teaching of writing in schools and could tip the balance against students in poorer school districts.

“The Impact of the SAT and ACT Timed Writing Tests,” is a recent report released by The National Council of Teachers of English.

Robert P. Yagelski, an associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Albany and the chairman of the seven-member NCTE task force that prepared the report, said the SAT essay, one of two components in the new writing test, “dramatically narrows” the scope of writing for students.

“If you look at an SAT prompt, it is a very narrow form of academic writing, and just a small part of a wide repertoire of writing skills that a student will need to be successful in college,” he said. It is unfair, he added, to use such a question in a test as crucial to a student’s future as the SAT.

“Students who are in low-performing school districts … will end up having to focus on specific skills they need to do well in tests.” he said.

The report comes nearly two months after 304,000 students became the first to take the College Board’s SAT writing test. (“SAT’s Next Chapter About to Be Written,” Feb. 2, 2005.)

A College Board spokeswoman criticized the report, saying it was prepared mostly by college English teachers and is not representative of the views of the majority of the NCTE’s membership. The Urbana, Ill.-based NCTE has 60,000 members, of whom nearly 80 percent are K-12 teachers, a spokeswoman said.

“The overall purpose of adding a writing test was to elevate the importance of writing in a classroom and focus on teachers who want to teach writing,” said Chiara Coletti, the spokeswoman for the New York City-based sponsor of the SAT.

What Is Good Writing?

Cathy Welch, an assistant vice president at the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT, said the ACT’s 30-minute optional essay question, added in February, “is relevant to college learning.”

“It is a test of persuasive writing, which is very important to college success,” she said.

The May 3 report says that the new tests correctly promote the idea that strong writing skills are essential for success in college and beyond. But the timed essay, it says, could promote formulaic writing by students. For example, the report says, sample essays on the College Board Web site “define ‘good’ writing as essentially ‘correct’ writing that is focused on conventional truisms and platitudes about life.”

The report says studies of other writing tests, including some by the College Board, have found that they have a minimal impact in improving students’ writing abilities. The “short, impromptu, holistically scored essay,” it says, also fails to be a predictor of college performance, including first-year course grades, writing performance, or retention.

Ms. Coletti said that the College Board’s own field studies on essay tests have shown a “strong co-relationship between scores on the test and college performance.”

“One of the primary reasons we introduced the essay was to call the attention of educators to the importance of writing and teaching writing,” she said. “College educators among our members were encouraging us to do this since 1990.”

Related Tags:

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
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

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

Reading & Literacy Photos Drama and Delight: The Faces of the National Spelling Bee
The 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee came down to a high-stakes spell-off. Here's a look at the faces behind the event.
1 min read
Shrey Parikh, 12, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., reacts to a fellow competitor's word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in Oxon Hill, Md., on May 30, 2024.
Shrey Parikh, 12, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., reacts to a fellow competitor's word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in Oxon Hill, Md., on May 30, 2024.
Nathan Howard/AP
Reading & Literacy Q&A A New Plan to Raise the Lowest Literacy Rates in the Nation
Daily summer reading instruction for thousands of students is part of a bigger plan to improve literacy in New Mexico.
5 min read
Arsenio Romero, secretary of New Mexico’s Public Education Department, addresses the audience at the Albuquerque Earth Day Festival on April 21, 2024.
Arsenio Romero, the New Mexico secretary of education, speaks at the Albuquerque Earth Day Festival on April 21, 2024. Romero is leading a statewide effort to improve literacy.
Courtesy of New Mexico Public Education Department
Reading & Literacy Older Students Who Struggle to Read Hide in Plain Sight. What Teachers Can Do
Going back to basics may get to the root of the problem.
6 min read
Image of a seventh-grade student looking through books in her school library.
A seventh-grade student looks through books in her school library.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages