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Monday, January 30, 2006

The SAT this past Saturday: Standardize how the test is given



When the SAT went to a 3 hour and 45 minute test I thought that was extreme. However, what my students are telling me happened this past Saturday is inexcusable. I had about 30 students take the test in various testing locations (four that I counted). When we did our post-SAT recap/evaluation of our prep program, here is what I found:

1 - The Time to get the test started averaged over one hour.


They started late:
Students are told to arrive by 7:45. Proctors arrived late, doors weren't opened until late, and proctors waited on "their students" who were late, few of whom showed up. (Every student said that proctors "waited" for late students far past the time they were to be there.) It was 8:20 before some were even put in their rooms.

Seating was unorganized.
At one location the TIP kids (7th graders taking the SAT) were put in separate rooms. At other locations, seventh graders with not so much at stake and shorter attention spans were put squirming in their seats next to highly motivated overly stressed Juniors and Sophomores. The new seating mechanism reaped criticism from all of my students as unorganized and difficult. Basically, kids with last names A-D for example were put in a room and then alphabetized in that room. Then proctors would discover students in the wrong room - send them to their correct one and then re alphabetize. It took quite a long time. Really!

Bubble Trouble:
I guess the thing that bothers me most is the "over bubbling." Yes, I see why checking ID's twice is a necessary evil. I do not understand why the best thirty minutes of the whole SAT in terms of student awareness and clarity is spent bubbling in names, addresses, etc. or waiting on those who don't get the whole bubbling thing. With all of the automation, why can't the college board have some sort of prebubbled sheet or scan coded sheet that is given to the student after their ID is checked the second time. Can't we have some automation of some kind? Can't they do it at the end?

OK, I could add some side notes but overall -- students didn't start the "real" SAT until 9 a.m. (some by 8:45 some by 9:15.) By that time, they had eaten around 6:15 or 6:30 and some were already hungry.

2 - Breaks were nonexistent, inconsistent, and didn't give time for students to eat.

The nonexistent/ inconsistent break.
Proctor: "OK, I know y'all want to get through and its already late -- does anyone really want a break or can we keep going?"

That was common at several locations. A student might really have to go but didn't want 30 glaring eyes. A student might be hungry (but that's another story.) If they went to the bathroom, they ran.

When do we eat?
Out of 30+ students -- not one set of students finished before 1:15 p.m. They had been there since 7:30 and ate breakfast around 6:30 a.m. During the breaks they were told they couldn't eat in the room (school policies didn't allow it) but that they couldn't go outside of the room because they might text message or talk to their friends. (They were all given the same test this time, just in different order!) So they were stuck hungry. One girl said her stomach kept growling and the proctor kept glaring at her. Students sitting near her complained they had trouble concentrating.

My very best students said that by noon they simply couldn't concentrate they were so hungry.

I know the test has to be hard but do we have to starve them to death?

3 - Some proctors were not vigilant

Cheating
Proctors were obviously stressed on the importance of cell phones being checked and off although many students reported hearing cell phones ring during the test. The student would say "oops, I didn't know I had it with me" and the proctor would look dismayed and everyone would get back on task until the next one rang.

One student said that the proctor checked everyone's desk and made sure the phone was off. However, during the test he read a book. The boy next to this student kept pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket and looking at it during the test. The student wasn't told to report those cheating although students in other rooms were told by their proctor to turn in other folks if they were caught cheating.

In fact, I had two twins who were moved from one another during the last SAT test (not January) because the proctors said they were nervous about "the twin thing." (Come on if ESP is real, would moving them across the room from each other help?) So, we're concerned about twins using their ESP but not about the guy pulling paper out of his pocket!

Time Keeping
The students who were most happy had proctors with clocks that had an alarm at 10 minutes until time was up and then 5 minutes till with the alarm sounding when they were done. They said it helped them greatly. Many students reported, however, that their proctor didn't say anything until time was up. Although their SAT Preparer (me) instructed them to bring a watch -- several of them use their cell phones and forgot they'd have to turn them off!

In Summary

I would pass along the tips and tricks that helped the students but only after they get their scores back. It seems that they have to sign a thing now where they promise not to talk about the SAT until their scores come back. Is this so they'll forget what is on it? Or is this so us teachers won't get as upset as I am today?

When I say I'm upset, it is not about the content. We simply have to have a measure to benchmark students (and schools) against one another. Here are my questions for any educator /college board person that will listen.
  • Can we create a test to measure student aptitude that is less than 3 hours and 45 minutes?
  • Can we streamline the process to make the time spent sitting in a room more productive so student can do their best?
  • If we're going to make it that long, can we give them time to eat?

I believe in giving kids a fair chance to do their best. If it is going to be the Standard Aptitude Test -- we need some standards for test administration that are fair and give kids a chance to do their best.

I feel students are being treated unfairly! How is sitting in a room for six hours hungry and answering difficult questions (1/3 of which most students probably don't have a chance of getting) fair?

Come on College Board, you've been doing this for years -- do what works and what is fair!

I hope educators and others alike will call on the College Board to be fair to these students -- most of whom are just trying to do their very best.

I would like to know if other educators in other areas of the country have students who are experiencing the same issues at testing centers or if this seems to be happening in the majority of the testing centers in southwest Georgia as isolated incidents. Please ask your classes and comment. This needs to be addressed by someone.


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