5/19/12, No. 39

@Jaxonpool _______

LB_red%22Dear%22Handicap the SAT:  Last Tuesday in Tallahassee, the state Board of Education unanimously passed an emergency rule lowering the passing grade for the state’s standardized writing test from 4 to 3. I support lowering the FCAT passing score from 4 to 3. But that’s not enough. Our students struggle, so I propose that high school seniors, and only those educated in our state’s public school system, get a 40-point SAT handicap on the writing portion. Forty points should be enough to make them competitive with students from other states..

Side view of classroom; photo from Tampa Bay Online

The Board of Education initially had tried to raise the minimum score to pass from 3 to 4 on the writing portion. Why? Because the standards until now have been astonishingly lax (no points off for bad spelling and grammar) and because what rates as a 3 or even a 4 in Florida is not what rates as a 3 or 4 in a number of other states. Lowering the minimum score keeps the failure rate the same as last year. And keeping it the same allows parents to remain in the blissful ignorance that their children are getting an education equivalent to what kids in other states get. Many of these parents were raised and educated in Florida and so have no reason to suspect their educational system differs from those elsewhere.

If last Tuesday the board had not lowered the score, only about a third of students would have passed, and such a low-pass rate would have exposed an inconvenient truth. I am opposed to inconvenient truths of any kind, whether from Al Gore or Tallahassee. .

Florida’s students struggle when competing for placement in the nation’s top universities. These other states with rigorous standards tilt the educational playing field to their students’ advantage.

Using 2010 nationwide SAT scores as a yardstick, of the 50 states Florida’s students rank 41st in the Writing SAT score (480), 39th in Critical Reading (497), and 45th in Math (498). In Total SAT Score, our state ranks 44th. Maine is the worst. That’s good! At least we’re not last. I am going to put that on a bumper sticker.

Which states are on top? Iowa (#1), Wisconsin (#2), Minnesota (#3), Missouri (#4), Illinois (#5), Michigan (#6), South Dakota (#7), Nebraska (#8), Kansas (#9), North Dakota (#10), Kentucky (#11), Oklahoma (#12), Tennessee (#13), Arkansas (#14), and Colorado (#15). The SAT and ACT are the only devices for measuring state-by-state educational quality. (Not enough students take the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] for it to matter.) The SAT, together with the ACT, is far from perfect; for example, it and the ACT combine public and private school students’ test results. Still, they are all we have. Consulting the ACT and SAT scores reveals that, nationally, our students score at the bottom. (Elsewhere I have written an analysis of SAT and ACT scores: Common Core)

Students being educated in Florida’s public schools struggle academically for a number of reasons. They face the hardship of having to breath the vapors that seep out of the ground and the gasses that emanate from the swamps. Inhaling these fumes causes a diminishment of mental function. Being surrounded on three sides by ocean water does not help either. And then there is the tropical heat. British colonists in hot climates such as India often worried about themselves or their colleagues ‘going troppo.’ That very well may be what has happened to our children.

All of these factors combine to explain why the young people coming out of the Florida’s public school system don’t do better academically. I can’t think of any other reasons. Can you? I didn’t think you could. I can’t think of any other reasons either. So there must not be any others.

Handicapping the SAT isthe practice of assigning advantage points to test takers educated in the public schools of Florida, to equalize the outcome. Kind of like in major league baseball, where the teams in the major media markets share profits with teams in smaller ones, and the teams in smaller markets get the first picks in the player draft. In principle, more knowledgeable and better prepared students in states like Iowa and Michigan will be disadvantaged in order to make it possible for less knowledgeable and less-well-prepared ones from Florida to do well. SAT handicapping will maintain the fairness of the overall testing system. Without a handicap, how could the young people of Florida possibly compete with students from evil states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota?

If handicapping the SAT at 40 points on the writing portion had been possible back in the day when I took the test and was applying to colleges, I probably could have attended a good university. No doubt I would have earned a degree from a prestigious institution. I then could have entered a profession, made good money, and bought a home on the river. I could have had class. I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead of a bum, which is what I am.

But enough about me.

Not that the public schools of Florida are bad. Don’t get me wrong. A score of 3 on the FCAT writing test should be good enough. But if we have to compete nationally, an extra 40 points should be thrown in on the Writing SAT Score, just to give our young people a fighting chance. Forty points will place us slightly ahead of Connecticut, which ranks 25th in that category.

I myself am a proud product of the Florida public school system. In my letters to you, have you not noticed that my spelling is not imperfect? That my grammar is not with flaw? That’s because I have learned how to use Microsoft Word’s grammar and spell-check functions. Have you observed that I organize my argument to achieve coherence and use sources to back up my statements? That I reason logically and think in a linear way? My critical thinking skills are superb, thank you! In sum, it all makes sense, at least to me. Lastly, I am in complete control of what I write. If, on rare occasion, I have a pitifully small knowledge base upon which to make grand claims, well, like Pee-wee Herman, “I meant to do that.”.

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