Today College Board president David Coleman announced that the test prep overlord money-mill non-profit giant will be changing once again its venerable SAT. It’s going back to a top score of 800, making the vocabulary better reflect college usage, and eliminating the penalty for incorrect answers, all in the hopes of making the test a better predictor of college performance and less susceptible to gaming by test-prep companies (in that way, it may slightly re-balance the playing field, now tilted towards those who can afford test-prep courses). But there’s more: students will also be tested on “founding documents.” I’m glad it will have more kids think about these documents, but wary of how they will be taught and tested. According to the College Board’s website,
America’s founding documents — such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — are all rather short, but they have inspired a conversation that endures today. Every time students take the redesigned SAT, they will encounter an excerpt from one of the Founding Documents or a text from the ongoing Great Global Conversation about freedom, justice, and human dignity.
It begs the question of who’s going to be writing these questions, what constitutes “founding documents,” and how they will be scored. The language above suggests that the documents will be ripped out of historical context and be thought of as abstract, timeless expressions of political, moral, or ethical philosophy–rather than the historically-contingent documents that spoke of freedom for some while reinforcing boundaries for others.