Thinking Backwards

I’ve noticed that when college admission folks (of whom I was once one) talk about changes to college admission policies, like new requirements or new testing, they often don’t think about the implications these changes have on high school curricula. I asked admission officers from Illinois schools about this a few months ago at our IACAC conference. They were talking about using/not using, requiring/not requiring the new SAT. They had talked about it with their faculties, had thought about it in terms of how they would use it, but when I asked how they thought using it would change the way writing was taught in high schools, I might as well have been speaking Urdu.

This response, or lack of one, has significant implications for high schools, since what colleges require tells us what we need to do. In the case of the new SAT, it is my contention that it will force high schools to truncate their teaching of writing to fit the template of the SAT. This means that thoughtful, discursive, extended writing will continue to wither on the vine as people feel increased pressure to teach to the test.

College presidents, provosts, and other policy makers need to consider the implications here and think not just about the continued health of their own institutions but also about the academic lives of those they influence simply by changing a policy. These are not trivial matters; they need to be discussed in national forums as well as in individual institutions.