Getting into the right high school

Five middle schoolers try to get into one of Chicago’s selective high schools in a WTTW series. Robert, a straight A student at a nearly all-black, all-poor high school, dreams of going to Whitney Young, an elite magnet. So do thousands of other students.

Alexander Russo calls it Hunger Games, Chicago Style.

SAT (and IQ) scores predict success

The SAT should be “abandoned and replaced,” argues Leon Botstein, former president of Bard, in Time.

Look at “the complex portrait” of college applicants’ lives rather than their test scores, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times.

The test measures only SAT-taking skills, adds Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.

Actually, the SAT predicts success in college ”relatively well,” write David Z. Hambrick and Christopher Chabris, both psychology professors, in  Slate. It takes a few hours to administer and, unlike complex portraits, it can be scored in an objective way. 

SAT scores correlate very highly with IQ scores, they write. Harvard’s Howard Gardner, known for his theory of multiple intelligences, called the SAT and other measures “thinly disguised” intelligence tests.

A popular anti-SAT argument is that the test measures socioeconomic status rather than cognitive skill.

Boylan argued in her Times article that the SAT “favors the rich, who can afford preparatory crash courses” like those offered by Kaplan and the Princeton Review. Leon Botstein claimed in his Time article that “the only persistent statistical result from the SAT is the correlation between high income and high test scores.” And according to a Washington Post Wonkblog infographic (which is really more of a disinfographic) “your SAT score says more about your parents than about you.”

Test prep doesn’t make a big difference, write Hambrick and Chabris. And research shows a significant but “not huge” correlation between socioeconomic status and test scores. Plenty of low-income kids score well.

. .  .as it was originally designed to do, the SAT in fact goes a long way toward leveling the playing field, giving students an opportunity to distinguish themselves regardless of their background. Scoring well on the SAT may in fact be the only such opportunity for students who graduate from public high schools that are regarded by college admissions offices as academically weak.

“One person’s obstacle is another person’s springboard,” Dawn Harris Sherling wrote in response to Kolbert.

I am the daughter of a single, immigrant father who never attended college, and a good SAT score was one of the achievements that catapulted me into my state’s flagship university and, from there, on to medical school. Flawed though it is, the SAT afforded me, as it has thousands of others, a way to prove that a poor, public-school kid who never had any test prep can do just as well as, if not better than, her better-off peers.

Botstein advocates adjusting high school GPA “to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates” and abandoning the SAT, note Hambrick and Chabris. “A given high school GPA would be adjusted down for a poor, public-school kid, and adjusted up for a rich, private-school kid.”

A commenter responds: “The idea that standardized tests and ‘general intelligence’ are meaningless is wishful thinking.  People find it cruel that something essentially beyond your control—intrinsic intelligence—could matter so much.  But it does.”

Another commenter writes: “It’s like trying to argue that looks are meaningless.  Yeah, it sucks for most of us, but doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

New SAT vacates ‘obscure’ words

A sneak peek at the new SAT, due in 2016, includes sample questions.

After reading part of a 1974 speech by Rep. Barbara Jordan during the Nixon impeachment hearings, test takers must “describe Jordan’s stance and the main rhetorical effect of a part of the passage,” reports AP.

Another sample question asks test takers to calculate what it would cost an American traveling in India to convert dollars to rupees. Another question requires students to use the findings of a political survey to answer questions.

Instead of “obscure words,” the new test will focus on “high utility” words tested in context, reports the New York Times.

For example, a question based on a passage about an artist who “vacated” from a tradition of landscape painting, asks whether it would be better to substitute the word “evacuated,” “departed” or “retired,” or to leave the sentence unchanged. (The right answer is “departed.”)

The new SAT won’t reward students who memorize vocabulary words, reports Time.

Here is an example of a old-style SAT question that students will not be seeing:

There is no doubt that Larry is a genuine ——- : he excels at telling stories that fascinate his listeners.
(A) braggart
(B) dilettante
(C) pilferer
(D) prevaricator
(E) raconteur

Instead, students will be asked to figure out the meaning of a word from the context:

[. . .] The coming decades will likely see more intense clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions. Some regions could end up bloated beyond the capacity of their infrastructure, while others struggle, their promise stymied by inadequate human or other resources.

As used in line 55, “intense” most nearly means
A) emotional.
B) concentrated.
C) brilliant.
D) determined.

Testing words in context penalizes the studious and helps the privileged, responds Ann Althouse. Working-class achievers can “study lists of difficult vocabulary words and tricks about how to figure out the meaning,” but will find it harder to study words in context. The children of educated, articulate parents learn vocabulary through conversation. “The way words appear in context is, for them, deeply ingrained, easy, and natural.”

She wonders if the goal is “to disadvantage the overachieving, drudge-like student.”

Overachieving drudges as in Asian-Americans?

Beware of dragons

A professor at Bergen Community College (New Jersey) was placed on unpaid leave and required to meet with a psychiatrist because he posted a photo of his young daughter in a T-shirt with a Game of Thrones quote on Google+. Daenarys’ line — “I will take what is mine with fire & blood” – was seen as a threat by an administrator, who happened to be a Google+ contact. A security official thought “fire” was a proxy for “AK-47s” rather than dragons.

Campus “free speech zones” are losing in court. A student prevented from preaching in a courtyard has forced Virginia’s community college system to drop its ban on “demonstrations” by individuals.

Core problem: Mom can’t help with homework

“Beyond the emotional arguments, the philosophical arguments, and the crazy arguments — there are a lot of crazy arguments against Common Core — there is a very practical argument” that supporters can’t answer, writes Erick Erickson on RedState:  Moms (and Dads) cannot help their children with math homework.

The math does not make sense to the children or the parents, he writes. “Kids are taught multiple ways to add totals together, must still add the totals correctly, but then must explain their answers — often having to write essays for math problems.”

Common Core will be “the under the radar, sleeper issue of campaign 2014,” he predicts. People are very, very frustrated.

But who will they blame?

Carnival of Homeschooling

Dewey’s Treehouse: is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling. It’s the Thousand Flowers Edition.

Principal explains lost tooth to Tooth Fairy

When a little girl lost her tooth on the playground and couldn’t find it, her principal wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy explaining the mishap.

When my daughter was five, she wrote a courteous letter to the Tooth Fairy to point out that 10 cents per tooth was a lot less than her friends were getting. The embarrassed TF raised the reward to $1.

tooth fairy letter

‘Children of the Common Corn’


After watching a trailer for Scarlett Johansson’s new sci-fi-ish movie, science teacher Paul Bruno has been coming up with ideas for Hollywood movies on education at #EduFictionMoviePitches.

“The world’s scientists are debilitated by disease; laypeople race against time to cure them using only creativity.”

“By standing in the center of the classroom and filling a pail, a teacher inadvertently summons an ancient evil…”

“Children of the Common Corn”

Eric Horowitz jumped in:

“Futuristic sentient VAM computers go haywire and start trying to kill teachers with low ratings.”

Marc Porter Magee added:

“Minority Report 2. USDOE PreCogs predict bad teacher evals before they happen. PreFire teachers before grades slip.”

There’s more.

Why Common Core is doomed to fail

Common Core standards are doomed, writes Jay P. Greene. The political backlash “will undo or neuter Common Core.”

With the U.S. Education Department, D.C.-based reform groups and state school chiefs on board, Common Core supporters thought they’d won a “clear and total victory.” (He compares it to the early victories by opponents of gay marriage.)

(They) failed to consider how the more than 10,000 school districts, more than 3 million teachers, and the parents of almost 50 million students would react.  For standards to actually change practice, you need a lot of these folks on board. Otherwise Common Core, like most past standards, will just be a bunch of empty words in a document.

It’s too late for supporters to convince the public and to “love” the core, Greene writes. Reforms like the Common Core have a fatal flaw.

Trying to change the content and practice of the entire nation’s school system requires a top-down, direct, and definitive victory to get adopted.  If input and deliberation are sought, or decisions are truly decentralized, then it is too easy to block standards reforms, like Common Core.  

But the brute force and directness required for adopting national standards makes its effective implementation in a diverse, decentralized and democratic country impossible.

Common Core didn’t need to start as national standards. It’s a shame the feds got involved instead of letting the standards truly be voluntary. I think some states will drop the core, weaken the standards or fudge the tests. But if half-a-dozen states implement the standards  and tests well, that will be educational.

The Federalist Debate features Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Heartland’s Joy Pullman discussing  the Common Core standards – without getting nasty.

‘Test and punish’ threatens Common Core

“When people talk about Common Core, they often mean the high-stakes tests attached to the standards and not the Common Core itself,” says Linda Darling-Hammond in an American Prospect interview, Pencils Out

The tests are a step in the right direction for most states in that they include more open-ended items. In most cases, they include at least one or two performance tasks, which require the kids to take up a problem, do an analysis, write a response, and sometimes revise that response. There’s real engagement in the work.

Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor, is senior research advisor to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing core-aligned tests.

(Under Common Core) students will be asked to collaborate, engage in the use of technologies for multiple purposes, communicate orally and in writing, do extensive research, apply mathematics and English language arts in complex problem-solving situations. The tests are not designed to reach all of those Common Core standards. They tackle the ones that are closest to what traditional sit-down tests can accomplish. Many of the answers will still be close-ended—that is, pick one answer out of five, or drag and drop your answer, or identify it from something that is already provided.

Many high-achieving nations have fewer assessments, says Darling-Hammond. Some use only open-ended questions, such as writing an essay, designing a scientific investigation or inquiring into a social-science problem. 

Only in the U.S. are tests used, without other measures, to decide on promotion, high school graduation and teachers’ pay and employment, says Darling-Hammond.

“To move forward we have to change the accountability paradigm” from “test and punish” to “assess and improve,” she concludes. “If we try to pour the Common Core standards into the old No Child Left Behind accountability framework, it will be like pouring new wine into old bottles.”

Most top-scoring nations give high-stakes “gateway” exams that decide who goes into a college-prep or vocational program and who gets into college, reports NCEE.