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The Humanities, Arts, and Education

Testing College Readiness in the Humanities

Average high school student test scores on the SAT “critical reading” and writing exams fell to historic lows last year, but does that signal a decline or shift in student skills? A record number of students in 2015 were also taking AP exams in humanities subjects, with a majority earning passing scores.

To assess the limits of these data points and offer some perspective on what the numbers tell us about the college readiness of the students taking these tests, this Forum offers a perspective from Doug Hesse (President of the National Council of Teachers of English and Professor and Executive Director of Writing at The University of Denver).

September 9, 2016

Contextualizing Two Recent Test Reports

posted by
Doug HesseDoug Hesse is President of the National Council of Teachers of English, and Professor and Executive Director of Writing at the University of Denver.

Selective findings from two testing realms—the SAT Verbal/Critical Reading and Writing and the Advanced Placement exams—certainly indicate things about the state of the humanities. But mostly they tell us that we need richer analyses of learners’ school experiences with the humanities.

Do I wish SAT verbal and writing test scores had reached historic highs in 2015? Of course. Do I despair that instead they fell to historic lows? No. Don’t interpret my seeming nonchalance as a fatalistic lack of aspiration. Instead, consider the realities of 21st-century literacies, the challenge of assessing them with 20th-century testing technologies, and wider school and social cultures.

What it means to read and write well continues to evolve, as it has for centuries—a function of universal schooling (we have expectations for all learners that would have been unthinkable a hundred years ago), new work expectations (the idea that a secretary would “type it up” is prehistoric), new forms of cultural expression (podcasts? graphic novels?), and, most obviously, new technologies. New literacies layer atop older.   More... 

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