Assessment Opinion

The SAT Impact

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 13, 2014 5 min read
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The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time... and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the possibility.” - William S. Burroughs

The news about the SAT changing has met with some serious head scratching. School leaders and teachers have been working hard transforming practice in teaching and evaluation for students, teachers and principals. However, nowhere except on page 6 of the local news, or a random story on local or nation news, do we see any serious look at students, teachers, leaders, schools, and districts that are doing well, in specific programs or overall. There are many, and the evidence lies in the need to change the SAT.

The New York Times reports David Coleman, one of the architects of the Common Core and now President of the College Board is: “intent on rethinking the SAT to make it an instrument that meshes with what students are learning in their classrooms.” Yes, David Coleman has been quoted as saying that the SAT no longer measures the work being done in our classrooms! Change in focus and practice must have taken place...and in such great proportion that this national standardized test is feeling the pressure to change.

This should raise a suspicion about a grand plan. How did a major architect of the Common Core, help to get the ball rolling in K-12 and then wind up leading the corporation that is the historical gatekeeper for colleges? Once the SAT is changed and accepted as the proper measure of a student suited for post-secondary schooling, our work to prepare our students must follow. This is not a statement about the value of the Common Core, or the SAT...rather it is a question about a grand plan that is swirling around us. While we are hard at work within schools and districts, there are things happening that should not be missed. We are not conspiracy theorists but we do believe there are a few among us with great influence over policy and action.

In the same NY Times article about the SAT, there is a passing note on the ACT.

Meanwhile, the ACT, which has always been more curriculum-based, is the first of the two to move into the digital age. In adapting its test for the computer, ACT Inc. is tiptoeing past the fill-in-the-bubble Scantron sheets toward more creative, hands-on questions.

Embedded in this statement is a possible nod toward national digital standardized testing. After all, if we don’t prepare students to know and be able to take these types of tests along the way, it certainly will not be fair to deliver them the ACT test without having any similar experience. Since our students generally take these tests in school buildings, the capacity for the schools to have the hardware and connectivity for masses of students to take these tests...well, you see where this is going.

That leads us to Ruppert Murdoch, who is credited with saying, “We see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.” Are we a $500 billion sector waiting desperately to be transformed? We do not think of ourselves as a moneymaking opportunity. But while we are hard at work doing what needs to be done for the students who show up every day, it appears others are thinking of us as desperately waiting for transformation. In days past, we attributed this type of thinking to textbook publishers. Now we wake up to many more that include Mr. Murdoch, the College Board and others.

Even more worrisome, in an article in the Harvard Business Review, Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff to Secretary Arne Duncan wrote,

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale...In this new market, it will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students - and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents.

While busy keeping our noses to the grindstone, others are watching us as the marketplace does. Even the department that oversees education on the national level is talking about our work as a “market.” There is no stopping this runaway train unless we acknowledge its existence and act from our expertise and passion. Maybe it is time for our organizations and unions to take a more radical role and re-organize. We need to be able to counter some of this movement to make money and perhaps lead a counter-revolution to have them give us the money that would surely help us meet the needs of 21st century schools.

Objections arise once something has happened. It is then we tend to mobilize and make our voices heard. These motives are not hidden from us. The move to use education to fill the coffers of huge business is in the news, right in front of our eyes. It is in looking out, beyond our immediate world, into the larger world. This is our domain and we can be active in ways that make us less victimized and more empowered. Perhaps it is our fear of the mess advocacy and movements may cause, or our lack of experience in leading such an endeavor. Or perhaps we are just too busy doing the work of the day, trying mightily to do what we are asked and meeting the needs of our students and communities. Curriculum, teaching, assessment, and accountability are not the only facets of our work.

Do not diminish the value of word of mouth. Malcolm Gladwell describes it this in his book The Tipping Point, referring to Paul Revere’s ride:

A piece of extraordinary news traveled a long distance in a very short time, mobilizing an entire region to arms. Not all word-of-mouth epidemics are this sensational, of course. But it is safe to say that word of mouth is - even in this age of mass communications and multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns -still the most important form of human communication (p.32).

We are facing big things on the educational landscape. Some are clear and present, and others remain beyond our attention. Our lack of preemptive action remains a mysterious and systemic flaw. Perhaps it is because we think action has to be a bigger effort than we can muster. According to Gladwell, it may be as basic as “word of mouth.”

This is an alert and a call to action. Whether it is knocking on the doors of other leaders, communities, boards of education, organizations, unions, politicians...and saying, “The Corporations Are Coming!” or taking the time to bring forward and explain the domino effect that the change in SAT or ACT will bring...no matter how small the effort may seem...it is not too soon to start.

Gladwell, Malcolm. (2002).The Tipping Point. New York: First Back Bay

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.