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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

NJIT Professorís New Book Adds Insight to SAT Writing Sample Debate

A book by Norbert Elliot, PhD, a professor of English in the department of humanities at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has reopened the debate about the value of the SAT’s writing test.

On A Scale: A Social History of Writing Assessment in America (Peter Lang, 2005) looks analytically at the test.  It couples observations about current test practices with beneficiaries of those practices. The book is the first historical study of its kind.

“My concern with high stakes admissions tests is that timed writing tests may not serve groups who have been the targets of past discrimination,” said Elliot.

“We are a nation as bound to efficiency in the 21st century as we were in the 19th,” Elliot added. “While renowned researchers from Edward M. White to Hunter M. Breland have demonstrated that timed tests of writing impact students with diverse backgrounds differently, we continue to use these tests because they are economically efficient. We in the college composition community are afraid that a timed writing sample is a potential vehicle for disaster in that it will fail to capture the cognitive and social complexity we commonly associate with the ability to write”.

The text examines into how pedagogical demands of the college composition community are pitted against the demands of the corporate educational research community. “From what I have seen in the history I have documented,” said Elliot, “both these groups pursue writing assessment in frequent isolation from each other, leaving students lost in the middle.”

The story begins with Harvard University’s 1874 requirement that first-year student applicants submit a short composition as part of the admissions process. And it concludes with the College Board’s 2005 requirement for an essay to be submitted as partof the new SAT®: Reasoning Test.

Along the way, readers will find a description of the relationship between the rise of psychological testing in Europe at the end of the 19th century and the attention to writing assessment in America at the beginning of the 20th century.  There is an analysis of why and how 20th century world wars shaped writing assessment on the college level.

Interviews include Wayne Camara, vice-president for research and development at the College Board, who takes responsibility for the SAT, Paul Ramsey, a senior vice president at Educational Testing Service (ETS), Jill Burnstein, the co-inventor of the ETS automated essay scoring system, as well as those in the college writing assessment community such as Lee Odell of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and New Jersey’s own Robert Lynch, former chair of the New Jersey Basic Skills Council.

One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks 5th among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com.