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Saturday, July 17, 2004
The New SAT

Starting next year, the College Board (the people who prepare, administer and grade the SAT, along with practically every other standardized test you ever head of) is introducing a significant change in the SAT. Instead of consisting entirely of multiple choice questions, there will be a new section of the test in which students will be required to write a short essay. The essay will be graded by two people (and a third if the grades differ significantly). Students will have about 25 minutes to complete the essay.

The grading cannot be done by machine.  Human beings will have to read each of these things.  Each grader will be looking for the following factors:

Whether the essay effectively develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position 

Whether the essay is well organized and focused, demonstrating coherence and progression of ideas 
Whether the essay exhibits facility in the use of language, using appropriate vocabulary

Whether the essay demonstrates variety in sentence structure
is generally free of most errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

Given what can be written in 25 minutes, and knowing what the graders are looking for in the essay, I think that a grading time of seven minutes or so is not unreasonable.  Reading the essay will take about four minutes (especially given that it will be handwritten), grading another two, and one minute will be needed to record the grade.
A little arithmetic music, please.
1.4 million kids took the SAT in 2003. So we are looking at 1.4 million essays, each of which will be receive two grades, for a total of 2.8 million grades.  
Seven times two times one point four million is 19.6 million minutes required to grade these essays.  That works out to 326,666 man hours.  If the tests are given 6 times a year and the number of people who sit take the test during each session is roughly equal, that means that 54,444 man hours will be spent grading the essays for each session.  If you want your grade within three weeks or less, as they promise for the current test, those man hours must be expended in less than three weeks.  Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they can take the full three weeks.  Assuming a forty hour work week, one grader will spend 120 hours grading essays.  So the number of graders needed can be determined by dividing 120 into 54,444, or 453 (and this assumes no time for the physical tests to be shipped to where the graders are, no third grades needed because of differences between the first two graders, no time to factor the essay scores into the scores for the balance of the test, no sick time or vacations, etc.) .

Does the College Board really believe that they can get 453 people to fairly and consistently score 1.4 , million essays annually?  

What value will the score have, given that it will be a result of minimal time spent by the grader on an essay that is little more than an outline because it is written under such severe time constraints? 

I am definitely in favor of standardized testing.  But this seems to be more than a little ridiculous.
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