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Bloggers or High Schoolers, Where is the Literary Talent? 284

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the and-where-is-the-overlap dept.
word munger writes "A few weeks ago, Chad Orzel read a New York Times article which analyzed the best high school writing on the new SAT test. The Times' writer appeared surprised that the best high school writing was so bad. Chad then wondered if the best bloggers could do any better under the same conditions and it was put to the test. Over 500 people tried the timed online test, but just 109 scoreable responses resulted. Professionals graded all the responses which were then posted on a web site where readers can rate the essays themselves, as well as find out the professional score. So who's a better writer, a blogger or a high schooler? You can also read Chad's analysis — or better yet, you can decide for yourself."
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Bloggers or High Schoolers, Where is the Literary Talent?

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  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday October 02, 2006 @06:56PM (#16285267) Homepage Journal
    Who's a better blogger, CowboyNeal or your average New York Times reporter?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The reporter .. maybe .. for now. People want things said in sound bites, and in an entertaining manner. Hopefully it will make them feel good about themselves while blaming someone/something else for their inconvenience.

      If someone writes a long winded treatise on a topic, most people will ignore, and even be annoyed by it. Even worse, they will go for an easy to understand, though inaccurate, criticism of it .. without bothering to udnerstand the whole situation.

      So yeah, if you want to be popular ..dumb do
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Bloggers are experts at writing

    take Slashdot for example
  • by OverlordQ (264228) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:00PM (#16285331) Journal
    Just hazarding a guess, but I think one of these groups might have a class or two which covers essay writing for things such as the SAT, and a hint is that it's not the Bloggers.

    For alot of Bloggers, High School (much less College) was quite a long time ago, and most employers aren't quite as pedantic as English Teachers are.

    On a related note, on our 'Advanced English Comp' exam that all Juniors have to take at our College you get to make 3 mistakes or you have to take the English Comp course. No, I dont mean 3 major mistakes, I mean anything wrong gets counted against you. For example in this writeup alone, I'm sure I have more then 3 mistakes with comma usage alone, much less any of the other writing conventions.
    • by bunions (970377) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:06PM (#16285401)
      > For alot of Bloggers, High School (much less College) was quite a long time ago, and most employers aren't quite as pedantic as English Teachers are.

      Reading the article, it seems like the primary problem is that the bloggers tended to not follow directions and wrote about whatever they actually felt like, instead of what they were supposed to write about.
      • by igaborf (69869) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:30PM (#16285635)
        Reading the article, it seems like the primary problem is that the bloggers tended to not follow directions and wrote about whatever they actually felt like, instead of what they were supposed to write about.

        Mod parent off-topic!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        You're right. People are complaining that "good writing doesn't come from 25 minutes of work!!" but really this study just proves that people who write blogs think they're fucking Aristotle or something. Maybe even literally.
      • by MMaestro (585010)
        Or vice versa, you are grading them based on their ability to strictly answer opinionated essay questions rather than what they actually felt like. This is from the essay question :

        What is your opinion on the idea that struggle is a more important measure of success than accomplishment?

        Bolding mine.

        If you ask someone their opinion on something, of course people are going to not going to follow directions and write 'whatever they actually felt like'. Lemme put it to you another way.

        What is your opinion o

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bunions (970377)
          did you even read the article? The submitted essays tended to drift and not answer the question directly or at all. Whatever your opinion is about a topic is, if you can't follow simple directions, you get graded down.
          • by Ruff_ilb (769396) on Monday October 02, 2006 @10:50PM (#16287299) Homepage
            I recently took the new SAT I. I did well, and have no complaints about my score, particularly in writing. This is just to clarify that my critiques aren't from any personal feelings, but rather from logic and experience.

            First of all, multitudes of people taking the SAT either lack the skillset required to complete the essay section sucessfully or aren't specifically prepared for the test.

            It's not about being a good writer, or being prolific, or even conveying your thoughts. It's only about writing to the test.

            Therefore, it's insane to make serious literary criticisms on these writers when they're doing no more than plugging in their personal experiences and bits from US Hisotry to answer the questions. Even the best writers don't necessarily do well; many of my friends, who are much better writers than I, didn't do anywhere near as well as I did. I'm the first to admit I'm not a particularly good writer. But it's not about writing. It's about plugging the test prompt into a preconcieved formula and outputting whatever gobblygook you have to based on the grading rubric. So there are basically a plethora of flaws here.

            Looking at more criticism:

            "What does this really demonstrate? It's hard to say. Probably, that students who do well on the SAT writing test will also do well writing college application essays. Also, I'll bet that the tactic of Essay #2 (and to a lesser extent #3) will serve as the template for all future test-prep classes, and SAT graders of the future will come to cherish the increasingly rare students following the lead of #4."

            Going through the college application process myself, I can tell you that what the college admissions professionals look for is nowhere near the same as what the SAT people look for. The SAT graders are simply looking for compliance with a strict formula and a specific sort of writing. It doesn't delight them to have a new, insightful, or personal spin on things. These "creative" touches simply throw them off their schedule - the graders, even those that grade online, have a cue in the form of a stopsign that warns them if they're going too quickly or too slowly. And the graders themselves get penalized if they grade an essay too far away from the other graders (each essay is graded at least twice). Furthermore, the lowest scoring students (as alluded to in the NYT) just ramble on about themselves or their lives, without relating back to the topic. The graders see far to many of these ineffective essays, so it's both dangerous to write one and dangerous to say that the graders like it when they're written.

            What this amounts to is a strict penalty for those essays that are either personal or creative, both qualities that college admissions officers laud.

            As for predicting that future test-coaches will advise you to take the tact of essay #2, that is, providing a personal and a literary set of anecdotes, I can assure you that such a strategy HAS been in place for quite a long time. I formulated a basic outline before I even BEGAN studying for the SAT's, because the format on the test is the same as EVERY OTHER type of high school writing prompt in the world. I have taken writing tests in two different states - Florida and Virginia. The tests are indistinguisable from each other. These types of prompts have been around for a while, and are here to stay.

            ~R
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by bunions (970377)
              Also:

              > It doesn't delight them to have a new, insightful, or personal spin on things.

              The same can be said for TAs, as you will no doubt soon find out. The sad fact is that until you get farther along, and then only if you're in a field that rewards creative writing, you will do far, far better by sticking to formulaic "intro, 3 points of proof, conclusion"-type papers that state your position so clearly you can read it 40 feet away than you will by putting your 'personal spin' on things, because no one
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by xenocide2 (231786)
                As a TA, I'm all for creative solutions. If you can write up code drastically different than the rubric had in mind that still meets criteria, full credit. However, in the field of Engineering, many of these solutions are better described as "wrong" than "new" or "insightful." Which does make my job somewhat easier, I do admit =).
        • by bunions (970377)
          let me restate that.

          > If you ask someone their opinion on something, of course people are going to not going to follow directions and write 'whatever they actually felt like'.

          No. If you ask someone their opionion on Subject X, it's not unreasonable to expect them to tell you their position on Subject X, whatever that may be. What is unreasonable is for people to turn in a paper detailing their opionons on Subject Y, why they think asking their opionon of Subject D would have been a more interesting que
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DAldredge (2353)
      When I was in high school I had an English teacher that would take off 110 points if you used the word a lot incorrectly.
      • by Ucklak (755284)
        I had a teacher what would slap your desk pretty violently if you used the non-word "swang".
        Those are the best teachers.
      • by OverlordQ (264228)
        well it stems from my profound usage of some other quantifiers like:

        fuckload
        shitload
        assload
        and so on.
    • This is very true - The thing about these tests is that they are not testing your ability to produce a profound, insightful essay deeply examining an issue in the allotted time, they basically want you to demonstrate your knowledge of a few basic principles, and structure your essay around them.

      I've never done the SAT, but I did do the GRE, and I'm guessing (from my non-american viewpoint) that they're much the same. In the GRE, if you take a good look at the scoring criteria, you can pretty much build up

      • by Surt (22457)
        (pick a side, state argument or two, note opposing side, note argument in favour of that side, counter the argument, wrap everything up nicely)

        This measures the ability to express a basic structural argument. If you can't do this you don't belong in graduate school, whether you can make deep insights into a particular subject or not. If you can't communicate your findings, you're missing one of the fundamental necessities of scientific advancement.

        The GRE writing test measures what it needs to very well.
        • I'm calling Bullshit on that. I don't know what it is exactly that tests like these are supposed to measure, much less what they actually measure. I have known people who couldn't pass a test if their life depended on it, YET are better at their job than most of their colleagues. Conversely, I've known Ph.D's who could pass any test you throw at them, but can't solve a practical problem and who don't have the sense to come in from a rain storm.

          Repeat after me: The Principia and Finnegans Wake aren't whippe
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by AgNO3 (878843)
      For alot of Bloggers

      Well, you failed English 101. There is no word alot. It is two words, a and lot.
      • by udderly (890305)
        I never understood why this is such a problem with so many people. It's simple--you wouldn't write "alittle," would you?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)
          I wonder if the problem comes from the fact that there is a word 'allot.' It might be possible to become confused between 'allot' and 'a lot,' and find some middle ground by writing 'alot.' Mind you, a decent browser will then underline it in red, indicating that you are a numpty (a word my browser also underlines in read, because it is ignorant).

          I hesitate about whether I should post this now. When I was at school, I was never confused by the difference between 'lose' and 'loose' until a teacher pointe

        • by Gilmoure (18428)
          Imight!
    • by crossmr (957846)
      Journalists would never try and sensationalize something. When a Canadian newspaper had 3 english teachers mark avril lavigne's "sk8ter boi" for grammar and composition that was hard hitting journalism. It should have won a peabody or something.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Just to let people know from those on the front line, since I'm one of the "high schoolers" analyzed (I use quotes because most people taking the SAT with writing are now college freshmen, or working at McDonalds) When you take the SAT with writing, the writing section is murder because its testing you on grammar, which is no longer a class at any point in primary, or secondary education. Then comes the essay section, which is usually a fluffy topic to try and get sentimental crap out. Well they dont give y
  • SAT essay too fast (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WMD_88 (843388) <kjwolff8891@yahoo.com> on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:04PM (#16285377) Homepage Journal
    I took the SAT in March '05. The essay portion then (assuming it hasn't been changed) is 25 minutes. Even the blog entries I (rarely) write take much longer than that to get a coherent thought properly written - and those take less thinking, usually, than the SAT essay prompt.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Even the blog entries I (rarely) write take much longer than that to get a coherent thought properly written - and those take less thinking, usually, than the SAT essay prompt.

      Didn't you ever take a test in High School or College that had essay question(s) which weren't given to you in advance?

      In your defense, most blog entries aren't exactly comparable to writing a focused essay on a single topic. But if it is comparable, then maybe you're slipping a bit from your school days.

      OTOH, I wouldn't really expect

      • by WMD_88 (843388)
        >Didn't you ever take a test in High School or College that had essay question(s) which weren't given to you in advance?
        Yes, but those weren't full essay prompts...they usually asked for one paragraph, and involved reading comprehension. The SAT wanted 3-5 paragraphs of what you thought about a question asked. Much different. The other times I did something like the SAT were in 4th and 8th grade, as part of Florida's state testing. Same idea, but 45 minutes instead of 25. Did much better on those.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      I think time should count. If one person takes twice as long as another to produce writing of equal quality, the faster writer deserves a higher score. I know I wish I could write proposals and presentations more quickly.
  • Gordon Rules (Score:5, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit (113459) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:06PM (#16285395) Homepage
    In Florida we have (or had, it's been a while) a law called the Gordon Rule. It requires that each student must write a minimum number of words in order to graduate from high school. Though I don't agree much with the quantity required, I think it's a good idea. For me it has always seemed odd that people will practice tennis, math, guitar in order to be proficient but will not do the same thing for writing. For many students the argument is, "I know how to speak English. All I need to do is write it down." Do bloggers write better than non-bloggers? I don't know... but at least it gives some practice in using words.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Peyna (14792)
      The best way to improve your writing is by reading other people's good writing. This means read less blogs, and read more classics and well-edited periodicals.
  • Who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NoTheory (580275)
    This is stupid on the face of it. Is the best writing produced in a timed setting from a random prompt?

    Come on. Good writing isn't produced like this, and it's not reasonable for the population of a single SAT trial to produce good writing. # of SAT writers infinite monkeys, and SAT examination time infinite. So big deal.
    • by NoTheory (580275)
      Crap, shouldn't have posted that as HTML.

      # of SAT test takers < infinite monkeys
      # of hrs in SAT trial < infinite time

      please, don't expect shakespeare.
      • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Monday October 02, 2006 @08:12PM (#16286153)
        The reason people think shakespeare is high literature is that nobody really understands it well enough to get the dirty jokes. If they actually knew what he was saying, they'd ban it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Plutonite (999141)
          They modded you informative.

          Such preposterous premonitions against a man who, in the amplitude of his vocabular grandeur, effortlessly dwarves the likes of thy scurrillus vituperations. Of lowly men, thou surely are amongst the most menial in matters of this concern.

          See? No troll mod.
        • Every single Shakespeare book I read in high school had a footnote in it "Oh, this is a joke about Syphilis."
        • Shakespeare was writing for peasants, for the most part. The reason it is considered high literature is because after all this time it is still approachable. Go and see Shakespeare performed well, and you will see the audience laughing at all the dirty jokes, because they're still funny.
    • The test isn't designed to make sure everyone is a great writer. It's designed to make sure that everyone can express a thought coherently in written form (whether it does so competently is another matter).

      Seems some people (at the New York Times) aren't looking at it from that perspective. Most people aren't going to go into their particular field.
  • by zoftie (195518) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:07PM (#16285415) Homepage
    Perhaps one paraphers don't cut, when experience required in writing introduction conclusion and ability to maintain flow over entire page or five.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Moofie (22272)
      OK, I understood most of those words, they just didn't come together into a coherent thought.

      And what the crap are "paraphers"?
  • by moehoward (668736) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:07PM (#16285419)

    That is a very odd comparison, to say the least. The 2 groups are different in too many ways. The testing styles are too different in too many ways. The requirements were different as well. Testing conditions were different. Etc. Hardly scientific. But, it does make great press, right? Odd that so many Slashdot stories moan about science vs. , but then they go with a weird story like this where a "study" is presented as science just because the authors used sort-of scientific "talk" to present their "findings." Isn't this the type of story that 20/20 or Dateline makes up to get viewers?

    As a writer (yes, you can't tell from my slashdot writing, which proves my point...), one needs limitations when one writes. For example, what reading level shoudl I write to, who is the audience, what is the audience comprehension level, and what style or genre would you prefer for my text. The instructions for both tests give very little of this information. I would find it impossible to write to my audience here... the exam graders/judges.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Karma Farmer (595141)
      But, it does make great press, right?
      If "great press" means "advertising revenue for Slashdot and the Submitter's blog", then the answer is yes.
    • I'd have to agree. I was considering putting up a well-written blog with some commentary and analysis on it. After looking at a lot of the blogs, I don't know if I would have an audience.

      A "great writing" score on an SAT would probably result in a scholarship to a prestigious university (Yale, Harvard, etc.). This would likely mean someone would have the ability to write like Dickens or Poe or another "great" ficton writer or poet. I don't believe the time limit itself would be responsible for eliminating s
  • by topham (32406) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:07PM (#16285423) Homepage

    There seems to be a belief that the first draft of anything should be perfect.

    You have an essay to write on a test? no problem, it should look like the finely crafted masterpiece someone else wrote over a period of days, months, or even years. And you have 10 minutes to do it.

    People should be introduced to the first draft manuscript of any literature, I think they would be surprised at how awful much of it is.
    • by cvd6262 (180823)
      I'd give you mod points if you weren't already at five.

      As a graduate student, I usually go through three or four drafts before I get something I feel confident turning in. Whether it's an assignment, part of a comp, or an article, I always expect some revisions will be requested by the rater. I've gone through six post-submission revisions on one paper before.

      Writing in a compressed timeframe should not be about literary quality, but about the effectiveness of communicating an idea. Sometimes the IM-speak "
      • Speaking as a writer, I have to say it depends a lot on what I am writing. I write a lot of articles (between 2-3000 words). Some of them, I write piecemeal. Others, I write end-to-end in a single sitting. I wrote a 2300 word piece a few weeks ago in an hour when a friend who was visiting was having a nap, for example.

        These are, of course, then sent off for editing, but the sub editor usually doesn't make many changes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Monkelectric (546685)
      Exactly. One of my favorite things in the whole world is some bootleg recordings of steely dan recorded in a garage, they're sold on amazon as "founders of steely dan" or "android wherehouse" and a bunch of other names. They are *TERRIBLE*. Complete trash. Point being -- they're my favorite thing because they give me hope for my own endeavours seeing how shitty something can start out, and how pretty it can end up.
    • by PCM2 (4486) on Monday October 02, 2006 @08:39PM (#16286345) Homepage
      There seems to be a belief that the first draft of anything should be perfect.

      Speaking as a professional writer and magazine editor, I suspect that this is one of the things that holds more people back from becoming good writers. They look at their "finished" product -- their first draft -- and they think it's pretty much OK, maybe has a few flaws, and they plan to do better next time. They don't stop to think that they might be able to do better this time if they would just put the manuscript on a shelf for a day or two, give it a rest, then revisit it with a nice big blue Pilot G2 pen and start self-editing and rewriting. And that, most importantly, there is absolutely no shame in not doing it "perfect" ths first time around. Many professional writers will tell you that the process of rewriting actually takes longer than the process of writing, especially on longer manuscripts. My recommendation is, whatever it is you plan to write, give yourself an artificial deadline a little before you have to turn it in and plan to do some self-editing and rewriting during that time. I find that just sleeping on it for a night usually gives you enough time to revisit your work with fresh eyes.

    • There seems to be a belief that the first draft of anything should be perfect.

      You have an essay to write on a test? no problem, it should look like the finely crafted masterpiece someone else wrote over a period of days, months, or even years. And you have 10 minutes to do it.

      I don't see that belief; in fact, I see essay tests as endorsing your view that it is extremely unlikely for the first draft of anything to be perfect. That's what makes essays good for tests (such as the SAT) that are designed to

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You can read short stories that need work at Critters [critters.org], critique them, and send the critique to the author. You gets points for writing critiques and when you have enough points you can submit your own story. It is a real eye opener to get what you though was a good story critique by 4 or 5 strangers. If you take their advice you can greatly improve your writing.

      I would say that becoming a better writer requires WRITING a lot - not reading more. Reading helps you know what works in a general way (and to av

  • amirite? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:10PM (#16285449)
    i wuz up all nite wrkn on my essay to pub 2 my blog when i rlzed that it wudnt b reel w/o sum form of sweet lingo dun up in da house 2 sho 2 my othr HS students, so i only got a 2 outta 6 on dat essay when i got a 9/12 on my SAT 1
  • Where is the Literary Talent?

    Well, I always can count on finding it in the Slashdot comments...

    • Joking aside, Slashdot does tend to have a fairly high literary quality relative to the rest of the 'net. I am now employed as a writer, and a lot of that comes from the practice I get writing a few thousand words on Slashdot every day. I may not check things I post here as much as I check things I'm paid for, but I do benefit from being in the habit of churning out large quantities of text on a regular basis.
  • Can't --- breathe --- drowing in --- links --- can't --- figure out --- what to --- click!!

    But really, I can't believe people are complaining about "first drafts" when
    1) they're being compared to high school kids. So first draft or final manuscript, high school graduates should out-write high schoolers, especially if they spend a good deal of their time writing
    and
    2) you should be able to put together a well-written essay that short in 25 minutes.

    In any case, this has only increased my hatred for the "blogos
  • Well no kidding (Score:5, Informative)

    by Overcoat (522810) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:21PM (#16285541)
    The damn test gives 25 minutes to write a coherent well-thought out essay. Samuel Johnson wouldn't have been able to bang out a readable essay in twenty-five freaking minutes. Nabokov would have taken one look at the time limit, laughed, and then walked out. 25 minutes, holy crap. Are the people who come up with these tests insane?

    For more on the reliability of SAT essay questions as a measure of anything except the ability to pile on verbage, here's an excerpt from another NYT article that ran last year:

    "In March, Les Perelman attended a national college writing conference and sat in on a panel on the new SAT writing test. Dr. Perelman is one of the directors of undergraduate writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did doctoral work on testing and develops writing assessments for entering M.I.T. freshmen. He fears that the new 25-minute SAT essay test that started in March - and will be given for the second time on Saturday - is actually teaching high school students terrible writing habits...

    In the next weeks, Dr. Perelman studied every graded sample SAT essay that the College Board made public. He looked at the 15 samples in the ScoreWrite book that the College Board distributed to high schools nationwide to prepare students for the new writing section. He reviewed the 23 graded essays on the College Board Web site meant as a guide for students and the 16 writing 'anchor' samples the College Board used to train graders to properly mark essays.

    He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. 'I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one,' he said. 'If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time.' The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade."

    So to any high schoolers about to take the SAT: when in doubt, write a lot, in third-person, and in cursive.
    • by koreth (409849)
      That's a reflection of high school teaching practices, I think.

      Before I got to high school, my leisure-time writing had a very concise, to-the-point style. High school taught me that to succeed, I had to pad my 300-word essays out to 500 words. I didn't have to actually say anything more, mind you, but if I wanted a good grade I had to use more words to do it.

      For all the high school's crowing about how they were preparing me for college, when I actually got into a good university and took some writing cla

    • Actually, any graduate student worth much can bang out a pretty good essay in 25 minutes. When you're cranking out four essays a week in addition to attending classes and teaching you get pretty good at writing thoughtful pieces in a limited amount of time. Granted, there are times when you need to spend more time on research or reading prior to the writing, but the writing itself still goes quite quickly. As for an opinion essay such as those used on the SAT, half and hour is more than sufficient. Now, if
  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:23PM (#16285561) Homepage
    Will someone please tell me what the infatuation with standardized testing is about?

    You get to rank kids, but you also get kids that have trained for the test. I have two sisters that are teachers that quite specifically teach to the test-du-jour. I mean not just a couple of weeks, but every single day's learning plan is oriented around the test the kids take that year.

    So, we've got kids being trained for a test, which is certainly not an "education." Or maybe that's what passes for an education for the unwashed, shrinking middle-class masses in America?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      Will someone please tell me what the infatuation with standardized testing is about?

      Umm... it is standardized. It allegedly provides a quick and quantifiable way to compare abilities.

      The second that any standardized test stops measuring ability & starts measuring knowledge.. you end up with teachers who teach to the test.

      The Law School Aptitude Test is a good example of a standardized test that measures ability and not knowledge. The MCAT is a good example of a standardized test that mostly measures kno

      • by cvd6262 (180823)
        The second that any standardized test stops measuring ability & starts measuring knowledge.. you end up with teachers who teach to the test.

        Yeah, and as soon as you test abilities instead of knowledge, the teachers' union claims you're neglecting the fundamentals. In other words, shrink their classes (=less responsibility+increase demand), raise their salaries (but not so much that teaching becomes a viable alternative to industry, that would increase supply), give them more "in-service" days, lower the
    • Well, we want some sort of standards, because otherwise you might have kids who are complete losers graduating, and standardized tests the easiest way to implement that. As you note, it is a profoundly flawed way to standardize, but... it's easy.
    • by cvd6262 (180823)
      There is nothing wrong with teaching dictated by a test so long as the test represents what the students should know and the capabilities they're supposed to demonstrate. The problem with many tests, the SAT in particular, is that they only test a small subset of the skills and knowledge we expect high schoolers to have, and often in highly contrived circumstances. These are both evidences of invalidity, which is all-too-often overlooked by test developers and users.

      Michele de Montaigne said that if you wan
    • by Ogemaniac (841129) on Monday October 02, 2006 @10:13PM (#16287105)
      Something like a full Kaplan course will get you an exta 30-40 points on an SAT. Beyond that, the returns rapidly diminish. All the studying in the world won't net you 100.

      The primary alternative to test scores are grades, which are even worse. They are extremely coachable, greatly influenced by third parties (parents, tutors, smart friends), subject to teacher ass-kissing, and are often a measure of attention to detail and willingness to do the grind rather than mastery of the material.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      So, we've got kids being trained for a test, which is certainly not an "education."

      Fallacy of the excluded middle. A well-designed test can and should test for education, not random teachable facts. It is entirely possible to write such a test. School teachers and college professors do so every day. If the state's board of education can't do the same, the fault lies with the test writers, not the good concept of giving tests and the good concept of testing everyone on the same basic material.

      If your test is
  • by Oddster (628633) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:23PM (#16285563)
    This should not surprise anybody, for the following reasons:

    1) The SAT writing section gives a student only the opportunity to write a first draft.

    2) The SAT writing section is almost always on an incredibly boring and uninspired topic, because the subject of the essay must be as equally accessible to all test-takers as possible. It's also quite obvious that it is hard to write well on a subject you could not care less about. The intersection of good writers and those interested in the topic has to be miniscule, if nonexistant.

    3) The SAT writing section is graded based on grammatical correctness and the logical ordering of ideas. It takes no account of whether those ideas make canonical sense, only that they were ordered in a consistent and logical manner.

    The SAT writing section can not gauge anything besides one's ability to write in the style of the MLA.

    It's been said a million times, but I'll say it again: The SAT score only measures one's ability to take the SAT.

    Disclosure: I am a recent college grad who did very well on the SATs.
    • by doom (14564) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Monday October 02, 2006 @08:15PM (#16286167) Homepage Journal
      The SAT writing section is graded based on grammatical correctness and the logical ordering of ideas. It takes no account of whether those ideas make canonical sense, only that they were ordered in a consistent and logical manner.
      I think this is key, myself. Presumably the high-scorers have some knowledge of how the test is graded and take the time to do precisely what the graders are looking for, and no more than that. Quality is elusive, you can't except a "standardized" test to check for quality, instead it has to be relatively mechanical criteria, like do the topic paragraphs support the introductory paragraph; is there a conclusion that resetates the introduction; etc.

      They didn't have a written portion of the SAT back in my day, but there were "essay" questions on the New York States Regents Examination for English (a standardize test, but taken by graduating seniors in New York State only). I happened to have an odd "tough" English teacher that taught us exactly what the graders wanted to see: I wrote grossly inane piece of crap, but aced the exam, as you would expect.

      And yeah, "Standardized" tests are far from the panacia some people think they are.

  • misuse of test (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) * on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:29PM (#16285623) Homepage Journal
    Really, the SAT writing test is in the initial phase, and as far as I know few colleges know exactly what the scores mean, or how they will be used. It is my understanding that the main use of the SAT writing section is to replace the uncontrolled college essay. This means that the college not only has some confidence that the student actually wrote the essay, but the essay is of initial quality. After many years I can put together a well formed essay in 25 minutes, but it would have certainly been beyond my ability in college.

    OTOH, in the real world, we seldom have to develop a formulaic arbitrary piece of writing on a topic that we might not only have no interest in, but no background in. That is a good thing because writing about what you know nothing of, and have no interest in, makes you a hack. Certainly no one going off to college is hoping to be a hack.

    A while back an english teacher got a hold of one of my writing and proceeded to 'correct it'. The teacher found several errors on the page, some I didn't realize I made, some that did not change the meaning, some that were bad. Understand I feel like I know who to write, and I feel like I know English. I know to say 'on which side the bread is buttered'. I know that saying 'to boldly go' is wrong, but the correct structure changes the meaning. I understand that as a teacher of English one must be pedantic, but expecting a writer to produce a good product in 25 minutes, on a random subject, is just idiocy. Such a requirement is an insult to the adult process of writing, in which one starts off with an interesting idea, and develops it over time.

    Many years ago Byte magazine had a silly essay comparing quality the writings of Hemmingway to the quality of a computer program. Even at the young age I read this, I understood that the analogy was daft, as a computer program must be perfect, and reflects a technical process that changes over time, while a published creative work of fiction is a snapshot of a creative process. The later need not conform to some arbitrary standard of perfection to be a perfectly wonderful tale.

    In the end this is one of those studies by one of those people that believes a good SAT score has some bearing on your actual ability to produce a real product, creative, technical, or otherwise. This is not sour grapes. I have always had very respectable standardized test scores, scores in fact that probably overestimate my ability. OTOH my ability to produce has nothing to do with the test scores.

    • Re:misuse of test (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Skippy_kangaroo (850507) on Monday October 02, 2006 @09:05PM (#16286575)
      Standardised tests are not about good writing or good ideas - they are about testing people's ability to write gramatically. People who know the rules of grammar will write a better essay in 25 minutes than those who don't. Writing is about communication and if you can't communicate, it doesn't matter how briliant your idea is because no one will ever understand it. But don't be confused, standardised tests are not trying to discover the next George Orwell, they are trying to find some assurance that the test-taker can write gramatically. Save the brilliance for university.

      With respect to rules and pedantry,
      It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature.

      This quote from "The Elements of Style" [bartleby.com] should make it clear that rules are made to be broken - but only advisedly. It is the reason Hemmingway was, and will remain, a better writer than any computer. And why it is sometimes OK to start a sentence with a conjunction. Or why it is acceptable to callously split an infinitive. (Which is not a crime in English anyway unless you think English is actually Latin - which it isn't.) But none of this matters in a standardised test because they are testing competence not brilliance.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:30PM (#16285633) Homepage
    --Robert Louis Stevenson

    These essays seem to be running about 250 words... about a page.

    Jack London was proud of himself for turning out 1000 words every day. George Bernard Shaw set his stint at five pages a day.

    And of course a professional writer has been preparing to write those words and thinking about them well in advance. And they are on a topic that the writer has selected him- or herself, and has some knowledge of.

    So they hit a _high school student_ cold with a topic the student has never seen before and give him or her twenty-five minutes (how on earth did they come up with that figure? Why not a round half-hour, at least?) to do, unprepared, what takes a professional writer a couple of hours, prepared... and people are surprised at the results?

    This isn't a test of writing in any meaningful sense of the word. I don't know what it's testing, but it isn't writing.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      It's testing a students ability to cope with the impossible. It's training them for the peasant society of tomorrow. It is not giving a good indication of their abilities. No standardized test could ever do that.
  • In the U.S. educational system there is currently a very strong bias towards math. Since math skills are so essential, school systems are willing to overlook problems with reading and writing as long as a student is progressing well in algebra, calculus, geometry, etc. The reverse never seems to be the case, however. A student proficient in math who has trouble reading and writing is "gifted", while a student proficient in reading and writing who struggles through math lessons is "special".

    One will get
    • by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Monday October 02, 2006 @08:21PM (#16286221)
      The strong bias towards math probably exists because... well, this is going to sound stupid, but math is quantitative, and writing is qualitative.

      It's easy to say that little Timmy is a math prodigy because he's solving integrals in his head by the time he's in seventh grade. It's very difficult to say that little Billy is a literary prodigy because the degree of assimilation and the quality of work produced are both measured very subjectively. In math and science, there are simple, fairly straightforward ways of measuring how well a student _recalls_ concepts and how well they can _apply_ the concepts. That latter one does require someone to read a bunch of logic on paper, and then estimate how well the kid has applied the concepts they've learned (i.e. does the student seem to understand "force" or is she just plugging and chugging), but that can be objectively determined (did she get the right answer, and do her steps to that answer clear and logical).

      In writing, someone has to actually sit down and read everything they student has written, judge it as objectively as they can, and then assign it a number grade. You could give a test on sentence structure, comprehension, and so on--which they do--and still have no idea if the kid can write. The writing needs to be clear and logical, but what's clear and logical in an essay is by no means as straightforward as what's clear and logical in a physics problem solution.

      What I'm trying to say, really, is that there is probably a bias towards math at least in some part because basic-level math is very easy to grade and evaluate, whereas to judge writing is more nebulous.
  • The question the students were asked to respond to (in the sample essays) was "Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?" With a question like that, how could you expect much more than rambling idea/word association? I mean, without memory, there is no learning.
  • Horrible prompt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DebateG (1001165) on Monday October 02, 2006 @07:37PM (#16285745)
    Of course the students' essays were horribly written. The prompt was terrible:

    Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?

    That is an incredibly difficult question that philosophers could spend a lifetime thinking about. In fact, I've found that many philosophers addressing these difficult issues often have glaring logical holes, unfounded assumptions, and most strikingly, atrocious writing.

    For some reason, the SAT believes that ambiguous, poorly crafted prompts somehow judge a student's writing abilities. If they want to judge a student's writing skills, this would be a much better prompt:

    Your friend is contemplating cheating on the SAT. Write a letter to dissuade him/her from doing so.

    At least there are concrete and fairly obvious reasons here, and I wager that you'd very quickly be able to see which students can write well and which can barely craft coherent sentences.
    • Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?
      The answer is that they help. It's completely trivial and is hardly likely to tax philosphers.
    • by vadim_t (324782)
      What a bizarre question.

      How would you learn anything at all if you couldn't remember what you did and what were the results?
    • Re:Horrible prompt (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jerf (17166) on Monday October 02, 2006 @08:15PM (#16286181) Journal
      Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?
      Holy cow, was that an essay question?

      "Given that people with no memories demonstrably fail to learn anything, including simple things like where they are or what day it is, clearly they help."

      If I were taking this test, I could easily expand that into the 5-Paragraph Magic Form I was taught for writing Unreadable Insipid Essays (TM), but why? For that matter I could cut that down by another half and still answer the question with this argument that I find undeniable.

      (I could twist and stretch the definition of "memory" and "learning" to make it not true, but across most combination of definitions of memory and learning this argument holds. You'd have to get pretty pedantically biological to make it false.)
    • by slackmaster2000 (820067) on Monday October 02, 2006 @08:26PM (#16286251)
      A better prompt may have been:

      "Do legs hinder or help people in their effort to train for and win the fifty-yard dash?"

      Throughout the ages, human beings have relied on their legs for moving about. From walking to running to hopping, the human leg has indeed proven itself a most valuable and celebrated mobility-enabling appendage. It should come as no startling realization, then, to learn that most human sports are derived from activities that demonstrate the prowness of the leg. And perhaps no sport showcases the raw power of the leg than the fifty-yard-dash.

      Oops, it's not supposed to be about the fifty-yard dash, but the importance or unimportance of the leg to training for and successfully running the fifty-yard dash. Good thing I already graduated from college, where I learned quickly that most professors can't write worth a damn anyhow. Perhaps that's the true objective of the SAT writing test - can you quickly write on any subject in such a way as to appeal to a narrow audience? If so, you can make it through the university system without much effort.
      • by Petrushka (815171)

        "Do legs hinder or help people in their effort to train for and win the fifty-yard dash?"

        Throughout the ages, human beings have relied on their legs for moving about. From walking to running to hopping, the human leg has indeed proven itself a most valuable and celebrated mobility-enabling appendage. It should come as no startling realization, then, to learn that most human sports are derived from activities that demonstrate the prowness of the leg. And perhaps no sport showcases the raw power of the leg

    • by Peyna (14792)
      Your friend is contemplating cheating on the SAT. Write a letter to dissuade him/her from doing so.

      The idea is to give them a prompt without a right or wrong answer, forcing them to evaluate both positions and come to a conclusion. The ideal essay then would explore the benefits and detriments of each possible answer and out of that decide whether one or the other is the better response.
    • by slamb (119285) *

      If they want to judge a student's writing skills, this would be a much better prompt: Your friend is contemplating cheating on the SAT. Write a letter to dissuade him/her from doing so.

      I complete agree. I believe that

      • students should write essays that persuade people to take specific action. In my first semester of college, I took both "Accelerated Rhetoric" and "Principles of Chemistry I". I wrote many "persuasive essays", but the one I'm most proud of was a plea to the chemistry instructors to stop
  • The fact that the whole thing is timed kinda hurts the challenge, I think. I'd like to consider myself a pretty good writer, but I'm terrible with a time limit. In high school I used to get all As in English class, but when it came to the essay exam at the end (administered by the State of New York), I'd get a B+ at best. That's because I don't work well with a time limit measured in hours or minutes. Give me a day or two to work and I'm fine. I like to move things around, nitpick over word choices, and pla
  • He certainly didn't tell us when I had him a few years back (And Chad, if you're reading this, (1) You still owe me and Matt a round of beers and a game of beer pong, and (2), Now do you know why talking like a pirate came so easily to most of the class?). Anyway, while its interesting that he's taken the time to raise this point, stating that bloggers are dumber than high school kids is like stating third graders have difficulty with lorentz transformations. Not to mention the fact that a good deal of the
  • I disagree with this comparison completely. At least how it's being judged and what it's being called. I think the real question here is,

    "who is better at critical thinking?" The bloggers, or high school kids with little life experience under their belt?

    To say this is a test of writing, is just sick. Writing requires passion, inspiration, and thought. After visiting the site and seeing what exactly the question/comment that the "contestants" were required to write about, I didn't even want to bother looking at any of the submissions.

    Another big difference, is that the SAT test takers are under pressure to perform for their educational future, whereas the "bloggers" don't really have anything riding on it.

    I like to fancy myself a writer, but I know i'm not consistant with it. I really only write when I'm inspired to do so, and usually it's to vent whatever crappy experience I'm going through or as a release valve to the craziness that goes on in my head from time to time.

    That's a far cry from asking my opinion in regards to a certain subject, then timing me as to how fast I can composite an opinion and express it in writing.

    If this were to be an accurate accounting of flat out writing skill and the use of the english language, a better test would be to have the "contestants" write out a technical manual, and judge it on who could clearly and best explain how to setup your widget du jour.
  • Directions: Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

    'I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.'

    -- Booker T. Washington

    Assignment: What is your opinion on the idea that struggle is a more important measure of success than accomplishment? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Su

  • Basically the bloggers just accused the testers of being in league with the communists. They made a few jokes about Bill Clinton and interns. Then they drew a picture of a cat.

  • Not in a box,
    not with a fox,
    No here not there
    Not anywhere.
  • by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Monday October 02, 2006 @08:33PM (#16286307) Journal
    The essay portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test does not measure Scholastic Aptitude. According to the College Board [collegeboard.com], students are given 25 minutes to digest a question, consider its ramifications, develop an opinion, prepare a response, and write it coherently, in a well-organized and persuasive fashion. The shortness of the test, therefore, encourages the test-taker to, respectively: misconstrue questions and jump to conclusions, consider issues only at the most shallow and superficial level, form opinions hastily, forego careful argument construction, and avoid correcting mistakes in grammar and diction in order to get everything down on paper. It's hard for me to believe that this test provides any useful metrics on critical thinking at all.
  • Over 500 people tried the timed online test, but just 109 scoreable responses resulted.

    The rest were probably dupes.

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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