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Redesigned SAT test ‘won’t brainwash’

Updated: 2014-10-27 02:56
By Zhao Xinying (China Daily)

Redesigned SAT test ‘won’t brainwash’

An SAT promotional poster is seen at the Beijing Education Expo on Nov 2, 2013. PROVIDED FOR CHINA DAILY

Educators discount latest version will spread US beliefs to Chinese students

The SAT, widely used for college admission in the United States, will not "indoctrinate" Chinese students with US ideology through its recent redesign, education specialists and students said.

They were responding to the latest debate that surfaced after SAT coach Kelly Yang wrote in the English-language Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post that "the new test, with its heavy emphasis on knowledge of the country's founding documents and civil liberties, has the potential to change the mindset and worldview of an entire generation of Chinese youth".

The College Board, a US education organization responsible for administering the SAT, has made several changes to the exam.

Among those, the one that concerns Chinese test-takers and their SAT coaches most is that from the spring of 2016, all SAT candidates will have to read passages from historical documents of the US, including the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the works of Martin Luther King Jr., Henry David Thoreau and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yang said in her article that "if the new SAT succeeds, it will be the first time America is able to systematically shape the views, beliefs and ideologies of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students every year... through what the Chinese care about most - exams".

But Wang Xiangbo, vice-president of the College Board, dismissed concerns that the redesigned SAT would indoctrinate or brainwash Chinese students.

"One of the basic requirements for any assessment, let alone the SAT - a large international assessment - is not to show any bias," Wang said during an education summit in Beijing in October.

Wang said a professional system is in place to assess the SAT questions on whether they show any bias to any student group before they are officially released. Any exam questions that are supposed to have tried to disadvantage or brainwash test-takers will not pass muster, Wang said.

"If the SAT consistently shows bias, … there will be no more SAT at all, and the College Board will never tolerate that," he said.

But Wang acknowledged that the redesigned SAT will be much more complex and difficult, in the sense that it will require more skills.

"That's the whole goal - we raise the American and the international bar of mastery of language, critical thinking, problem-solving and evidence analysis as part of the whole design," he said.

Zhang Hongwei, director of the Overseas Testing Management Center under the New Oriental Education and Technology Group, believed that the redesigned SAT will not go so far as to affect Chinese students' values, but it will definitely become more difficult for Chinese students and will put the students at a disadvantage.

"One common shortfall among Chinese students who prepare to take the SAT is their limited volume of reading," Zhang said. "Few Chinese students can read as many English books as their American peers do, who also have the opportunity to be exposed to these historical documents and works of literature in their daily life and study."

Gao Zhenghong, a Beijing high school student who has taken the SAT three times since January, said the US founding documents may leave a deep impression on students during the several months they prepare for the test, but the impact will fade as time goes by.

"In comparison, the impact of Chinese culture and sense of value will accompany us forever, as we were born and raised in China, and will come back to live in China after the study," Gao said.

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