The Critical Reader Blog

I will eventually.  Test aside, it's just that for now, reading David Coleman's vapid, repetitive, bloated prose makes me physically ill.  It is quite literally some of the worst writing I've seen in my life. "College and career readiness proficiency?" WTF? You can have proficiency in a subject, or in a field, or on an instrument, but you cannot have proficiency in readiness. Proficiency is readiness.   This is nonsense.   Dry and boring is one thing, but this makes my skin crawl. I've actually been mulling it over, trying to pinpoint just what it is -- textually speaking -- that's eliciting this reaction. As far as I can ascertain, it's something about the juxtaposition oftouchy-feely metaphors (heart of algebra! "digging into" problems!) and otherwise soulless, mechanical style that strikes me as downright bizarre. It's the worst type of edu-speak, one that pays lip service to the romantic ideal of education as…
From Federalist Paper I (chosen at random) To the People of the State of New York: AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the union, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there…
The first truly comprehensive guide to ACT English is now available.  270 pages of ACT grammar and rhetoric fun, dispelling the myth that the ACT is immune to shortcuts and providing answers to such eternal question as:   What's the second use of a colon?  How do I know whether the sentence really needs to be inserted? What the heck is a dash, and how am I supposed to use it?  Features a "cheat sheet" for the most commonly tested concepts as well as passages about favorite ACT topics including Native American gardening techniques, Asian-American architects, and what happens to your recycling after it gets hauled away. There are also two appendices listing all of the English questions in the Real Guide to the ACT -- one by concept, one by test. You can find it on Amazon.  And for a preview, click here. 
Here's one to add to the "critical thinking" lack-of-defiintion phenomenon. It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that I've been following the news of the SAT overhaul pretty closely; suffice it to say that I've read quite a few articles about it in the last few weeks. In doing so, however, I've noticed a curious phenomenon: virtually every article I've encountered has included the line that the new SAT will eliminate "arcane" words. The authors of these articles almost invariably use the word "arcane." I've seen one or two authors put it in quotes, implying an ironic or skeptical understanding of the term, but the vast majority use it with the literary equivalent of a straight face.  The SAT, of course, is distinctly partial to the word arcane, along with synonyms abstruse, archaic, esoteric and recondite. (Admittedly, recondite is a tad, uh, recondite, but I'd say the other two are pretty common.) So the logical question: is…
I have to say I never thought I'd write a post singing the virtues of multiple choice tests (well, sort of). Despite the fact that much of my professional life is dictated by such exams, I've never had any overwhelming liking for them. Rather, I've generally seen them as a necessary evil, a crudely pragmatic way of assessing fundamental skills on a very large scale. Sure, the logic and elimination aspects are interesting, but they've always in comparison to the difficulty of, say, teaching a student to write out a close reading of a passage in their own words. People might argue that learning to do so in irrelevant (obviously I disagree, but I'm not going into that here), but basically no one is disputing that it's hard. At any rate, I've always assumed that given the alternative between an essay-based test and a multiple-choice one, the former would invariably…
People seem to be throwing around the term "rote learning" a whole lot these days in regard to the SAT, without any apparent understanding of what it actually means. So in a modest -- and perhaps vain -- attempt at cutting through some of this linguistic obfuscation, I offer the following explanation. This is an example of a question that tests rote knowledge:  The dates of the American Civil War were: (A) 1849-1853 (B) 1855-1860 (C) 1861-1865 (D) 1866-1871 (E) 1872-1876 This question does not require any thought whatsoever, nor does it require the answerer to have any actual knowledge of the American Civil War beyond when it occurred. It is simply necessary to have memorized a set of dates, end of story. This is what "rote learning" actually means -- memorizing bits and pieces of information, devoid of context, and without consideration of how those particular bits and pieces…
Among the favorite arguments regularly trotted out by critics of standardized testing is the fact that scores correlate so closely with income. Sure, there might be an occasional outlier, but for the most part, the correlation holds steady. Students who come from well-off families will obtain high scores, while students who come from poor families will score far lower. So if standardized test scores are nothing more than a reflection of socioeconomic status, why bother even having the tests in the first place?  Well, I can think of a couple reasons. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to restrict myself to highly competitive/elite colleges -- the schools that the SAT was developed for in the first place.  Let's start with the fact that in 2013, the average score for a student from a family with an income of over $200,000 a year was 1714: 565 Reading, 586 Math,…
When I first started tutoring reading for the SAT and the ACT, I took a lot of things for granted. I assumed, for example, that my students would be able to identify things like the main point and tone of a passage; that they would be able to absorb the meaning of what they read while looking out for important textual elements like colons and italicized words; and that they, at bare minimum, would be able to read the words that appeared on the page and sound out unfamiliar ones. Over the last few years, however, I've progressively shed all those assumptions. When I start to work with someone, I now take absolutely nothing for granted -- until a student clearly demonstrates that they've mastered a particular skill, I make no assumptions about whether they have it. And that includes reading the words as they appear on the page.  To…
There are many, many things I could say about the overhaul of the SAT (coming to a testing center near you in 2016!), but I don't want this to turn into an endless rant, and so I'll do my best not to ramble on too long. The elimination of the sentence completions and the 1/4 point penalty, as well the changes to the essay didn't surprise me in the least; the combination of Reading and Writing into one section caught me a bit off guard, however. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. If more time is going to be allotted to the essay -- the only possibility if you're giving a more in-depth assignment -- it's going to get cut somewhere else.  Some of the changes I agree with. The essay, for example, desperately needed to be overhauled, and I'm certainly not going to object to any assignment…
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