Stop timing the ACT and SAT
Today, tens of thousands of students across the country are sitting for hours taking the ACT college admissions test, just one week after many sat for hours taking the SAT.
ACT test takers sit to complete an English section for 45 minutes; math, 60 minutes; reading and science, 35 minutes each; and an essay, 30 minutes. That’s a total of 205 minutes. Students with special needs and who are granted extended time will sit for more than five hours.
Those taking the SAT sit for 3 hours 45 minutes to complete a 25-minute essay, six 25-minute sections (mathematics, critical reading and writing), two 20-minute sections (mathematics, critical reading and writing) and a 10-minute multiple-choice writing section.
Why, exactly, are these tests timed the way they are? Why, for example, do students have exactly 60 minutes to take the ACT math section but 25 minutes to write an SAT essay?
It’s not because extensive research has shown that subjecting students to exactly this amount of time to complete these academic problems reveals something important about a teenager.
It’s because the entities behind the tests, ACT Inc., and the College Board, say so. The big thinking is that high school students need to be tested under pressure to see how they will fare in the pressure-filled environments in college. The other problems cited is the problem of securing and paying proctors and test sites for unspecified amounts of time.
Let’s assume for a minute that teenagers getting ready for college have not already been subjected to a pile of timed standardized tests and been forced to show what they know in an arbitrary amount of time (which, as we know, is not true; students today take high-stakes standardized tests ad nauseam.)
Timing the SAT and the ACT would make sense if the tests were highly predictive of success in college, which they aren’t, and if a single test could actually show how well a student works under pressure, which it can’t.
Oh, also if every single student who is a slow processor, or dyslexic, or dealing with other problems that could impact their ability to take the test in the scheduled time, were granted extra time, but they aren’t.
The idea is not original with me.
FairTest, the non-profit National Center for Fair and Open testing, has been screaming aobut this for many years.
Howard Garner, the famed Harvard University educator, made the case in 2002 about eliminating SAT time constraints in the New York Times:
“Few tasks in life--and very few tasks in scholarship--actually depend on being able to read passages or solve math problems rapidly....IIndeed, by eliminating the timed component, the College Board would signal that background knowledge, seriousness of purpose, and effort--not speed and glibness--are the essentials of good scholarship. And if, in the future, students were allowed to bring dictionaries, or even to have access to the Web, so much the better. Such a change would far more accurately duplicate the conditions under which serious individuals at any level of expertise actually do their work."
In 2006, Mark Franek, dean of students at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia made another argument about eliminating the time constraints, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
He pointed out that it is unfair that students with the resources to get an expensive diagnosis permits them extra time on these tests have an unfair advantage over students who need extra time but can’t get it.
On its website the College Board says on page for counselors and other professionals helping students:
“Please keep in mind that a student’s documentation must demonstrate not only that he or she has a disability, but also that the student requires the accommodation being requested. Therefore, a student who requests extended time should have documentation that demonstrates difficulty taking tests under timed conditions. In most cases, the documentation should include scores from both timed and extended/untimed tests, to demonstrate any differences caused by the timed conditions.”
So kids have to get a diagnosis first, which can cost several thousand dollars, and then have someone at their school who has enough time to assemble their documents, even though many high school counselors are charged with handling hundreds of students a year.
While a lot has been made in recent years about kids getting extra who don’ really need it, the people to worry about are the ones who go through school with a disability that hasn’t been diagnosed and addressed, and who are forced to take these tests without any accommodations because nobody knows they need it.
It is way past time to eliminate the time limits on these tests.
If a student can get through quickly, let them leave, which they are not now allowed to do. If a teen needs more time on one section and not on another, they should be allowed to have it.
And if someone wants to sit there all day to complete the test, why not let them?
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| June 12, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories: College Admissions, SAT and ACT, Standardized Tests | Tags: act, college admissions tests, college board and extended time, extended time on act, extended time on sat, fairtest and sat, how long is the act?, how long is the sat?, how to get extended time, howard gardner and sat, sat, sat and act, time limits on act, time limits on sat, timing the sat, which test is longer
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