08 August 2016

Will the College Board ever force David Coleman to resign?

Vicki Wood over at Powerscore has posted an article on that company’s blog calling for David Coleman to be removed from his position as head of the College Board.

Citing the numerous problems that have plagued the redesigned SAT, including the cheating scandals resulting from the decision to reuse tests internationally and the hundreds of questions reportedly leaked to Reuters, Wood writes: 

David Coleman is the leader of the College Board, and the responsibility for these numerous failures rightly lies with him. We believe that the only acceptable solution to these breaches—and really, the only way to save the integrity of the SAT and begin the long process of repair—is for Coleman to resign immediately. Given the arrogance he has displayed in the past we aren’t counting on him stepping down voluntarily, so it’s up to the College Board: admit responsibility, remove David Coleman, and immediately repair your broken test security system. The future of millions of college applicants is at stake.

While I am in complete agreement with Wood — the repeated disasters of the Coleman regime are the predictable result of appointing a self-involved Gates-funded hack who nonetheless believes himself to be the savior of American education   — I’ve also become quite cynical about the prospect of substantial change occurring anytime soon.  

Probably the most intriguing aspect of the SAT redesign for me was watching as the College Board deliberately concocted a collection of distortions, half-truths, and outright falsehoods, which were promptly lapped up and unthinkingly disseminated by such august publications as the New York Times and The Atlantic (among many others), and eventually swallowed by the public at large. 

Even people who were largely skeptical about the new test were often taken in to some extent. As I heard one $450/hr. tutor say earnestly, “It’s great that they’re asking students to use evidence.”

It was kind of like watching a mini edu-version of 1984 unfold in real time, a lesson in propaganda I never expected to experience. It was fascinating, but it was also bizarre and more than a little terrifying. No matter how vague or ridiculous the assertions, it never seemed to occur to anyone — college admissions officers and high school counselors included — to question them or to press for specifics. It’s not as if anyone would have had to dig particularly deep to find the problems. 

Not only that, but state testing committees in Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Connecticut accepted at face value the College Board’s vacuous assertion that the redesigned test reflected “what students were doing in the classroom.” Leaving aside the fact that Common Core was only implemented in public schools, which many students in those states presumably do not attend, the members of these committees appear not to have noticed that the Common Core ELA standards are devoid of specific prescriptions (meaning that any test purporting to test skills laid out in the Standards may or may not reflect what students have actually done in class), and that there is therefore absolutely no way to ensure consistency between districts.

These are basic commonsense concerns that should be apparent to anyone who has spent more than 30 seconds thinking about the issues involved, and the fact that so many presumably educated professionals failed to notice the gap between the College Board’s rhetoric and the reality of the situation raises some very serious questions about the mindset of the people in charge of education at the state level. How on earth can students be taught to think critically when the people responsible for overseeing the school system are so easily taken in by fancy PowerPoints? 

As far as I can tell, the Washington Post and Reuters are the only major media outlets to regularly display anything resembling skepticism about the overhaul of the exam. And any prestigious publication that has written glowingly about Coleman in the past is unlikely to turn around and admit to how badly it was taken in. Not to mention the fact that anything involving Common Core has become so toxic that no one even wants to touch it. 

As a result, the true extent of these problems is just not on most people’s radar; beyond a relatively narrow slice of the edu-blogosphere, it’s largely a non issue. When people have so many other things to worry about, education gets stuck on the back burner, and it is highly unlikely that there will be any mass outcry. 

In addition, Coleman is presumably a key force behind the replacement of the PARCC with the SAT in some states, the switching of one Common Core test with another being very much to his advantage. Given that not all that states involved have made the change yet, it stands to reason that the details of some of those deals are still being worked out, and it is highly unlikely that the College Board would risk jeopardizing the prospect of gaining so much market share.  

Besides, the redesign of the SAT is an established fact, and it is very, very hard to undo things that have already been implemented, especially on a national scale. At this point, the College Board has no other option but to keep going on the track it’s established for itself, regardless of how involved Coleman is on a day-to-day basis. Save for a complete institutional implosion (which is of course not entirely out of the question), there is no other option.

The forces propping up Coleman are not about to back down and admit they were wrong either. If there’s one thing that’s become clear about “data-driven” reform, it’s that when the data don’t show the desired outcomes, the solution is to obfuscate the issues, massage the numbers, then double down and do more of whatever wasn’t working in the first place. 

And thus the crises continue. 

When it eventually becomes clear that the situation is unsalvageable, the powers that be will walk away and leave someone else to clean up the mess. And it will be a big, big mess.

Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect we’re still a fair distance away from that point. The College Board is still functioning, however ineptly, and for the time being, that is reason enough not to shake things up. 

2 Responses

  1. Dan Lipford

    As I’ve said all along, the rSAT is a gigantic experiment whose subjects are the unwitting students – and their parents – who were never given the information that would have allowed them to give or withhold their informed consent.

    And that’s truly slimy of the CB to have done.

  2. Preach! Here in northern Virginia I try to spread the word among my students about how the new SAT is a punchbowl full of turds. I often refer them (and their parents) to your blog. You are performing an invaluable public service. I have faith that The Gray Lady will eventually come around if you keep up your fact-based broadsides on Coleman and company.

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