David Coleman, the Common Core, the “Redesigned” SAT and Growing Public Angst: Is the Testing Craze Ebbing?

Every teacher in American is engaged in the Common Core, how many have heard of the architect of the Common Core – David Coleman?

In a lengthy article in The Atlantic Dana Goldstein describes the architect,

David Coleman is an idealistic, poetry-loving, controversy-stoking Rhodes Scholar and a former McKinsey consultant who has determined, more than almost anyone else, what kids learn in American schools.

I first heard Coleman in April, 2011, I was sitting with a network, thirty or so principals and staff watching a telecast of what has become the iconic Coleman speech. (Read transcript of the Albany speech here).

Coleman strutted back and forth across a stage laying out in detail the elements of the Common Core, to be honest my attention was beginning to wane; there was a certain smugness about Coleman, and, maybe I knew too much about his past. He had created the “Grow Report,” one of the first data tools to assess student/school progress; it was widely adopted by school districts and Coleman sold the company for mega-bucks. After attending PS 41, IS70 and Stuyvesant High School he graduated to Yale, Oxford and Cambridge and according to his bio intended to become a high school teacher, instead, he became an entrepreneur.

As my mind was wandering I was jolted upright, Coleman told us,

“…the most popular form of writing in American high schools today …it is personal writing. It is either the exposition of a personal opinion, or, it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem … as you grow up in this world you realize that people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

It was crass, intended to surprise, and wrong. Yes, employers seek employees with literacy and numeracy skills, they also tell us, as does Nobel Prize winner James Heckman, that it is the non-cognitive skills that employers find most important.

While forty-five states may have adopted the Common Core the debate continues and over the last week Marc Tucker, Anthony Cody, Diane Ravitch and Yong Zhao continued to debate over accountability and testing, debating the Common Core.

A few years ago Coleman moved from the Common Core to the College Board with the goal of redesigning both the SAT and the Advanced Placement exams – to make the exams congruent with the Common Core.

The SAT folks are on the road drumming up support for the new SAT – due out in 2015-2016. At the September 15th NYS Regents meeting a team from the SAT gave the Regents a preview of the new test. The “Redesigned SAT,” as it is called by the College Board is totally different from the current SAT, and, incredibly complex.

Try a few questions from the “Redesigned SAT:” http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/September2014/RedesignedSATCollegeBoardPresentation.pdf)

Goldstein tells us Coleman,

… hopes to effect change from the top down, by shifting what is expected of students applying to college and, he hopes, by increasing the number of students who apply in the first place. Coleman’s most radical idea is to redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core. He describes this change as a way to put applicants on an equal playing field, a message to “poor children and all children that their finest practice will be rewarded.”

To think that an extremely difficult test is going to change the face of American education is both foolish and arrogant.

… the SAT is unlikely to close the large test-score gap between affluent and poor students. “It’s hard to use the SAT as a driver of social justice, because tests tend to reproduce, not upend, social hierarchies,” says Nicholas Lemann, the author of The Big Test, a history of the SAT, … “Everybody is always looking for the test on which people from different races and classes do the same, but it doesn’t exist.”

If Coleman’s College Board really wants to prevent high-school students from dropping out—a focus of the organization’s latest advocacy campaign—it ought to develop an occupationally focused corollary to its Advanced Placement program, [Anthony] Carnevale suggests: not “Math for Harvard” but “Math for Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning.”

Coleman’s problems are not new, the SAT is no longer the college gatekeeper, with each year fewer and fewer students take the SAT, the reductions by state have been drastic. (Read state-by-state data here)

Coupled with fewer test takers is the “test optional” movement. More and more colleges are either giving applicants the option of not submitting SAT grades or have abandoned the SAT totally. A recent study compares students accepted through the SAT process (“submitters”) and students without the SAT (“nonsubmitters”).

… there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “nonsubmitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for “nonsubmitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.

The revolution that rolled over New York State over the results of the Common Core state tests will be dwarfed by the tsunami of parent anger if hordes of students “fail” the redesigned SAT. As the SAT team projected “old” SAT questions and “new” SAT questions eyes rolled. The room was packed with principals and superintendents and scores of people with PhDs after their names. Had we all suddenly undergone a plague of “dumbness” or is it the new SAT?

How many thousands of dollars in tutoring fees will parents have to spend to prepare their urchins? And, how about the kids who can’t afford $100 an hour tutors? The current yawning achievement gap will become a chasm.

Regent Tallon is fond of referring to the “folks cross the street,” on the other side of Washington Avenue, where the legislative and the executive branches of state government are housed. As parents railed against the state tests legislators and the governor squirmed, the public’s angst was directed at government officials who have to stand for election every two years.

As College Board revenue shrinks and colleges and state governments retreat the overseers of the SAT will be looking at the bottom line.

One of the lessons of history is that reforms imposed from above without buy-in from below are doomed and ignoring history has dire consequences.

Perhaps David Coleman should consider his original career choice – a high school teacher.

6 responses to “David Coleman, the Common Core, the “Redesigned” SAT and Growing Public Angst: Is the Testing Craze Ebbing?

  1. Some of these sample SAT test questions seem incomplete. You’d think the slides would include one with the answers. The motel stayers? Anyone able to explain that to me?


  2. FairTest’s list of 830 colleges that are ACT-SAT optional for some or all applicants is at http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.


  3. Pingback: Peter Goodman Watches as David Coleman Shows Off | Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. So, if the old SAT wasn’t very useful for predicting how well a student would do in college (grades and zip code being much better, thus more and more colleges not requiring it for admissions), how will the “new” test be better…unless you assume that colleges are going to change their curriculum based on what is on the new SAT? Barring that (I hope), all the new SAT is going to do is force more parents to pay more money for tutors for a new test that really doesn’t do anything. Just plain stupid.


  5. I am no Coleman fan, but if he’s being truthful about remaking the SAT as a knowledge test, perhaps he would be improving it. Because then kids could actually study for it. Right now it’s like an IQ test –something you can’t really study for. It’s a dipstick into one’s reservoir of word knowledge –impossible to say which words will be on it. This gives a huge advantage to upper class kids who steep in verbally rich environments. But if the SAT tested discrete bodies of knowledge –e.g. American fiction authors –studious poor kids might do as well or better than less studious rich kids. My understanding is that China’s exams work this way –they’re relatively meritocratic because success on them is really a matter of studying what everyone knows is going to be on the test (I know the gaokao pressure is pathological; I’m not advocating that part of China’s system).


  6. Let’s keep David Coleman far away from any high school classroom.


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