Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Don't Look For Apple Seeds In Oranges

Instapundit posts regarding a study by Dr. Perelman of SAT essay scoring, wherein Perelman found a direct correlation between a high score and length of essay. In the story, Mr. Perelman whines about factual errors in the essays.

Now, I am as dismayed with the HS school students' propensity for not knowing facts. I am dismayed with the education establishment's propensity for a opposing memorization and decrying "teaching to the test" attitudes as though that doesn't educate the student. But here, from the College Board website are the criteria for getting a top score of 6.

An essay in this category is outstanding, demonstrating clear and consistent mastery, although it may have a few minor errors. A typical essay

* effectively and insightfully develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position
* is well organized and clearly focused, demonstrating clear coherence and smooth progression of ideas
* exhibits skillful use of language, using a varied, accurate, and apt vocabulary
* demonstrates meaningful variety in sentence structure
* is free of most errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Clearly, Mr Perelman (or should I more correctly, factually, say "Clearly, according to the NYT, Mr. Perelman") is caught up in his own preferences for scoring, one in which the facts are correct in addition to being able to write 100 to 400 words meeting the above criteria in less than 25 minutes.

What is perfectly clear from the guidelines, the students are to write well and correctly from an English usage standpoint with all that that entails, not well and correctly from a factual standpoint. And it seems to me that if I, as a student, have also to meet Perelman's standards and write, "Columbus discovered America in 1492", I might still get points off depending on whether the two graders were both Leaf, Amerigo, or Chris fans, not to mention that I might get sea of red ink and complimentary zero because I didn't write "Columbus destroyed America in 1492." In fact, I might write what could become a famously historical speech, but get a lousy score because of some dates and controversial interpretations are incorrect.

Now as to Perelman's observation about the length, let's take a hypothetical situation. One student writes five sentences, each with an error. Let's say we give him a zero. Another student writes twenty (on the same subject) sentences with ten sentences having errors. What say you, Mr. Perelman? All other things being equal, I would give the latter student a better grade.

I'll leave it to someone else to consider if a student who has already provided data, via the history section of the SAT, should be again be beaten about the head with lower marks in the essay section intended only to assess writing skills. In my estimation, Mr. Perelman complaint is the same as that of an English professor complaining that lab reports on the tensile strength of steel cooled under various conditions aren't as eloquent as Bryan's "Cross of Gold Speech." In other words, irrelevant.

Of course, Steven Den Beste might change my opinion, but I do think it is safe for me to say he would put Perelman's e-mail address on the Bozo Bin list.


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