On this blog, I try to instill some reason in a process that's so fraught with anxiety. But I'm pretty peeved by the College Board's latest testing product. Read on.
This article in The New York Times was the tinderbox that set me off. The College Board has developed a new test with a cute name: Readistep. A better name would be the pre-pre-SAT. Readistep, designed for 8th graders, is intended to prepare kids for the SAT. But wait, isn't the PSAT already supposed to do that? I thought so, too, but apparently the College Board thinks students should be preparing for the PSAT in 8th grade. It's a practice test for a practice test.
This is total lunacy, right? Apparently not according to the questionable educational leadership in my home state of Texas. It goes without saying that these folks (who regularly choose religion over science in textbooks) are not elected for their eruditeness. At a time when teachers are losing their jobs and arts programs are getting the axe, the Texas Education Agency decided it was worthwhile to spend $8 a student for any 8th grader in the state to take the Readistep. This makes me so angry I can't see straight, but there are plenty of other reasons to hate Readistep.
There is extensive documentation regarding how well the Readistep lines up with the requirements for the TEKS assessment tests already given to all students in the state. In one way, this is great, in that Texas schools are already teaching the concepts needed to do well on the Readistep, and by extension, the SAT. In another way, it just points out that the Readistep is an enormous waste of time and money. Students get a "skills report" with their Readistep score pointing out areas they need to work on. Aren't the TEKS results already doing this? What additional information does Readistep really provide? I can't see anything. And per the NYT article, an expert went over the psychometrics with a fine-toothed comb and came to the conclusion that the Readistep didn't provide sufficient items to say much of anything about a student's skills with certainty.
Since we've established that it really doesn't provide much useful information, what does the Readistep do? It essentially makes it OK for students to start SAT prep in 8th grade, or earlier. The NYT articles points out that "some schools" have already been giving old PSATs to 8th graders. No word on which schools those are, but I'd bet the farm that they're pressure cooker private New York City schools, the secondary school versions of the preschools that require 3-year-olds to take IQ tests for admission. This tiny, but financially flush, population is assuredly the demographic that the College Board really designed the Readistep for. The fact that the Texas schools want to give it to everyone is gravy, since I doubt (hopefully) other states will be so foolish. The CB can now publish a lot of Readistep prep books, online courses, etc. It's a goldmine. And it's also a goldmine for a lot of anxiety-mongering college counselors and test prep companies.
I found it heartbreaking that the Fort Worth 8th grader mentioned in the article came home feeling that "she didn't do well." It turns out she actually did score high on the test, but think about the anxiety she felt after test day. Do you think she's going to be anxious when she takes the real thing? No doubt. Do you think she'll spend a lot of money on prep materials and classes before then? Probably. The Readistep doesn't provide useful diagnostic information, and it costs schools and/or parents on tight budgets money. For what? To generate anxiety.
I'm also seriously disturbed that the school district administrator quoted in the NYT article seems to have no idea why students actually do better on the SAT after taking the PSAT. She attributes the higher SAT scores achieved by students that took the PSAT twice to the fact that they took the PSAT twice. I'm flummoxed by the fact that anyone in education believes that taking the PSAT alone will boost a student's SAT score! The real reason is that the kids who take the PSAT twice are more likely high achievers already, take the test seriously, and have probably invested a lot of effort in preparing for the test. If they're showing up on test day wearing gear from their first choice college, these kids have already identified themselves as college bound. She opines that practice is the key to success on the SAT, and it is, but an "official" practice test like the Readistep or the PSAT isn't really providing practice beyond experiencing a relatively realistic test day situation.
I'm going to be watching the progress of Readistep to see whether it's going to infiltrate schools across the country. I hope that parents, teachers and school boards opt not to subject their students to this useless test. The only "SAT prep" 8th graders should be doing is reading as much as possible and taking their school work seriously. Save the SAT for later!