Tech Valley High checks out ‘the SAT of critical thinking’

On Board Online • May 24, 2010

By Marc Humbert
Senior Writer

Students at Tech Valley High School, a joint venture by Capital Region BOCES and Questar III BOCES, are getting familiar with an electronic exam called the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA).

Haven’t heard of it? Not surprising. In 2007, when the CRWA debuted, only five schools administered the exam. This year, Tech Valley – a regional high school located in Rensselaer County – is one of just 46 schools nationwide giving the test.

Number 2 pencils are not involved. The CWRA comes up on a student’s computer. On one side of a split screen, a student might find links to documents, a scenario and a question. On the other side is an empty box. Students get to write as much or as little as they want.

“There is no clear right or wrong answer. It’s really about critical thinking,” said Dan Liebert, Tech Valley’s principal and chief academic officer. In fact, some people call the test the “the SAT of critical thinking” or “the SAT of 21st Century skills,” Liebert said.

Rose Biggerstaff, a Tech Valley junior who is from the Bethlehem school district, said she thinks the CWRA provides her, the school and prospective colleges with a valuable new tool. She said it required her to demonstrate her ability to think critically – an oft-cited educational goal.

Comparing the exam to the PSAT and Regents exams, she said, “If you want to know what the student is actually capable of doing, it’s a better assessment.”

Liebert said that despite criticism of the SATs (some colleges admission offices no longer require them) and other standardized tests, he does not see the CWRA running them out of town anytime soon.

“Regents exams assess how much content a kid knows. That’s legitimate. We need to know that,” the Tech Valley principal said. “You can’t think critically about nothing. You have to have some content.

“But, if all we are assessing is content, we don’t know if they can do anything with what they know,” he added. “The bigger picture is, what can you do with that stuff? And, I think the CWRA gives students an opportunity to show that.”

The CWRA is produced by the Council for Aid to Education, a New York City-based national nonprofit founded in 1952. The test is a spinoff of the organization’s Collegiate Learning Assessment, a test launched in 2000 to gauge the quality of undergraduate education at the nation’s college and universities. Thus far, more than 400 institutions and 165,000 students have participated in the CLA program.

The CWRA program calls for testing ninth- graders in the fall and testing seniors in the spring, but exams can be administered to other grade levels as well. Tech Valley High offered the exam for the first time this year to freshman, sophomores and juniors. The school opened with just freshmen in 2007, so it won’t have its first senior class until next year. 

Tech Valley was able to administer the CWRA for free this year because of its affiliation with the New Tech Network, a consortium of 38 schools nationwide that picked up the cost for 11 of its schools to use the exam. Normally, the exam costs $40 per student.

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