SAT: 43% are college ready

Forty-three percent of SAT takers were prepared for college-level work, according to this year’s SAT Report on College & Career Readiness. Overall, scores were the same, but black and Hispanic students improved slightly.

Students who score 1550 or above on the three-part exam are likely to complete their degree.
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Blacks and Hispanics took less rigorous courses and earned lower grades. Only 27 percent of black students and 36 percent of Hispanics said they’d earned an A average compared to 60 percent of Asian-Americans and 53 percent of whites.

College Board officials aren’t blaming a larger, more diverse testing pool for the stagnating scores, notes CollegeBound. Diversity is an “excuse,” said David Coleman, president of College Board. “It’s time to really consider how to get many, many more students into rigorous coursework that will enable them to break through a performance freeze that is limiting opportunity.”

‘Common Core’ test market gets crowded

The Common Core testing market is getting crowded, reports Education Week.  College Board is aligning four testing programs to the new standards, adding “yet another player to the list of companies seeking to take on new roles in a shifting nationwide assessment landscape.”

In addition to the SAT, College Board will redesign ReadiStep, aimed at 8th and 9th graders, the PSAT, typically taken by 10th and 11th graders, and Accuplacer, used to determine whether incoming college students take remedial or college-level courses.

David Coleman, who took over as the College Board’s president last October , was a chief writer of the common standards in English/language arts.

States could use College Board’s tests to track students’ progress toward college readiness by 2014-15,  Coleman said.

He wants the tests to play other roles, too: as an early-warning system, facilitating interventions for students who are behind; and as door-openers, identifying promising but under-recognized students and connecting them with more-challenging coursework and with supports that will aid them in applying for college.

College Board will be competing with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which are using federal funds to design standards-aligned tests.

ACT also is developing ”common-core tests that will span elementary through high school, include not only math and literacy but science, and be ready to use a year earlier than the consortium tests, which are slated for debut in 2015,” notes Ed Week.

Common standards were supposed to allow states to see how their students were doing compared to other states, but if core adopters are split between PARCC, SBAC, ACT, College Board and state exams, comparability will remain elusive.

New SAT aims to help low-income students

By focusing on what’s taught in school, the new SAT will help students who can’t afford test prep, writes Ilana Garon, a Bronx high school teacher.

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity, notes Garon.

While both the current SAT and the ACT have Reading and Writing sections, the SAT currently focuses on vocabulary and more verbally complex reading passages, while the ACT does away with vocabulary definition questions in favor of questions about punctuation and a longer, more involved focus on writing mechanics. In the Reading section, the ACT features articles in four known categories (as opposed to the random selection offered on the SAT), as well as a Science section, which makes students analyze graphs. The Math section of the ACT more closely aligns with a high school math curriculum, while the SAT features some logic games, which are more similar to LSAT questions, and does not include trigonometry.

Students who are strong in math or visually oriented will do better on the ACT, while “verbal” students “may find the SAT plays to their strengths,” writes Garon.

One of the on-going problems with the current SAT is not that it is “harder” than the ACT (as some would argue) but the fact that, more than its rival, it focuses on material outside of the scope of a high school curriculum. For wealthier students, an SAT tutor becomes a mandatory accessory; for many poor students, this type of service is out of reach, leaving them to take a test that is disconnected from what they’re learning in their regular classes with only sparse opportunities for preparation

College Board plans to inform low-income achievers about scholarships and aid to pay their way to selective colleges. But raising college awareness may be less important than redesigning the test, concludes Garon.

I’m not optimistic that the new SAT will be an equalizer:  Students who go to academically strong schools will have a huge advantage.

Prepare for new SAT, digital ACT

College admissions tests are changing, reports the New York Times.

Say farewell to vocabulary flashcards with arcane words like “compendious,” “membranous,” “mendacious,” “pugnacious,” “depreciatory,” “redolent,” “treacly” and “jettison.” In the new SAT, to be unveiled in 2015, David Coleman, president of the College Board, wants to get rid of obscure words that are . . . just SAT words, and replace them with more common words like “synthesis,” “distill” and “transform,” used in context as they will be in college and in life.

And the math? “There are a few things that matter disproportionately, like proportional reasoning, linear equations and linear functions,” Mr. Coleman said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re going to concentrate on.”

“And it shouldn’t just be about picking the right answer,” he said. “It should be about being able to explain, and see, the applications of this math.”

Coleman, a principal architect of Common Core standards, wants the SAT to align with what students learn in high school instead of trying to measure “aptitude.”

The ACT, which already is more curriculum-based, will be given on computers and will include “more creative, hands-on questions,” the Times reports. In addition, ACT will offer yearly testing as early as third grade to “help guide students to college readiness.”

Coleman plans to change grading for the SAT essay, which lets students “get top marks for declaring that the Declaration of Independence was written by Justin Bieber and sparked the French Revolution, as long as the essay is well organized and develops a point of view.”

 “We should not be encouraging students to make up the facts,” Mr. Coleman said. “We should be asking them to construct an argument supported by their best evidence.”

Over and over, Mr. Coleman returns to the need to prod students into marshaling their evidence. “The heart of the revised SAT will be analyzing evidence,” he said. “The College Board is reaching out to teachers and college faculty to help us design questions that, for example, could ask students to use math to analyze the data in an economics study or the results of a scientific experiment, or analyze the evidence provided within texts in literature, history, geography or natural science.”

In 2005, the SAT dropped analogies and added more advanced math. However, the test is losing market share to the ACT, which last year was taken by more students.

Collegebound can’t opt out of Common Core

Common Core Standards will affect homeschoolers when their children apply to college, writes Paula Bolyard in PJ Lifestyle. Without traditional academic credentials, homeschooled students need strong SAT or ACT scores.

David Coleman, a “lead architect” of the Common Core, is now president of the College Board, which designs and administers the SAT and AP (Advanced Placement) tests. He plans to “redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core,” reports The Atlantic.

The ACT, which describes itself as “an active partner with the Common Core State Standards Initiative,” also plans to revamp their tests, notes Bolyard.

If your homeschooled children plan to go to attend college some day, the way things currently stand, they will be tested on Common Core “achievements and behavior.” That means you may need to consider altering your curriculum to align with the standards.

Alignment of the SAT, ACT and GED exams to Common Core “poses new questions about the extent to which states, private schools, and homeschooled students will be compelled to accept national standards and tests,” writes Brittany Corona on Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry

Even in states that do not sign on to Common Core, schools could find themselves having to align content with Common Core material in order to ensure student success on the SAT or ACT—something that could affect private schools.

The GED is “sometimes used by homeschoolers to demonstrate content mastery,” Corona writes. The new version of the test “could pull homeschoolers into the Common Core web.”

Michael Farris, co-founder of Home School Legal Defense Association, told Coleman (in a polite conversation): “Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.”

From Common Core to College Board

After helping write English Language Arts standards that will be used in 46 Common Core states, David Coleman is going to head College Board, which controls SAT and AP exams. A 42-year-old former McKinsey consultant (and liberal arts-loving Rhodes Scholar), Coleman is The Schoolmaster, writes Dana Goldstein as part of The Atlantic‘s excellent education report.

“I’m scared of rewarding bullshit,” Coleman told Goldstein. “I don’t think it’s costless at all.”

By bullshit, Coleman means the sort of watered-down curriculum that has become the norm in many American classrooms. For nearly two centuries, the United States resisted the idea, generally accepted abroad, that all students should share a certain body of knowledge and develop a specific set of skills. The ethos of local control is so ingrained in the American school system—and rifts over culture-war land mines such as teaching evolutionary theory are so deep—that even when the country began to slip in international academic rankings, in the 1980s, Congress could not agree on national curriculum standards.

As a result, states and school districts were largely left to their own devices, and test-makers were hesitant to ask questions about actual content. Education schools, meanwhile, were exposing several generations of English teachers to the ideas of progressive theorists like Lisa Delpit and Paulo Freire, who argued that the best way to empower children and build literacy skills—especially for students from poor or racially marginalized households—was to assign them books featuring characters similar to themselves, and to encourage them to write freely about their own lives.

Coleman wants students to read challenging materials and learn to answer questions by citing the text, not chatting about their personal experiences. (ACT’s report on building a content-rich curriculum.) His expectations are high. 

But Common Core’s “career ready” is exactly like “college ready,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. A “one size fits all” college-prep curriculum will leave behind many students who might be motivated by a career track, Carnevale argues.

When he takes over at College Board, Coleman plans to change the SAT from an aptitude test to a test of knowledge linked to Common Core Standards. He hopes to level the playing field for diligent, low-income students. (Good luck with that.)

Whither SAT reading’s stentorian fall?

Why are SAT reading scores at a 40-year low? Here’s a practice SAT reading question from 1972. Beware the gallimaufry.

SAT reading scores hit 40-year low

SAT reading scores hit the lowest level since 1972 and writing scores dropped as well, College Board reports. Math scores have improved.

Only 43 percent of 2012 graduates who took the SAT are prepared to succeed in college, estimates College Board.  That is, 43 percent scored 1550 out of 2400, indicating a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during the first year at a four-year college.

More students — including more from low-income, less-educated and immigrant families — are taking the SAT, which tends to push scores down.

College Board cashing in on ‘college for all’

The college-for all push is enriching College Board, according to the Hechinger Report. A nonprofit, College Board runs the SAT, PSAT and other exams.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have each agreed to pay the College Board anywhere from several hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million a year to test students in hopes of boosting their college-enrollment numbers, and the College Board is actively promoting its products in other states.

These deals are likely to further increase the College Board’s net revenues, which hit $65.6 million in 2010—the last year for which the figure was available from tax filings—up from $53 million the year before. The test supplier pays a quarter of its employees at least $230,000 a year, while its president, Gaston Caperton, earns more than $1 million annually—almost double what he made in 2005—and has a $125,000 expense account.

“They’re a very profitable nonprofit organization,” said Brad MacGowan, college counselor at Newton North High School in Newton, Mass., a Boston suburb. “They always seem to be coming up with a new product or service to push testing into younger grades or make states give the SAT to every student.”

Ten states and the District of Columbia pay for all students to take the PSAT at no cost. Delaware , Idaho and Maine require all high-school students to take the SAT and pay for the cost.

The number of high school students taking the SAT has risen by 30 percent in a decade. The test costs $49.

More security for the SAT, but is it better?

Students will now have to register a current photo of themselves in order to take the SAT or the ACT, reports Caralee Adams at Education Week.  (See also this article in the NY Times.)

Under the new measures, students must submit a current photo (digital or print) when registering for the tests, and the photo will appear on the admissions ticket for the testing site, according to a press release from the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Supervisors at the center will have a roster of students with their name, date of birth, gender, test type, attending high school, and access to a printable online register of photos. Upon entering the testing site, students must present the admissions ticket. They also may be asked to show the photo ticket when re-entering the test room following breaks or upon collection of the answer sheets.

In the past, students were required to present only a photo ID when they arrived.

This is in the wake of a cheating scandal in New York.  There was a problem… so something must be done, right?

Well, the problem is people sitting in the chair who ain’t the person applying to college.  That’s what you have to fix.  It seems pretty clear that false test-takers were able to get fake ID’s in order to take the tests under the old regime.

Now, maybe I’m just a pessimist, but all this seems to do is move up the deadline for finding your test-taking proxy.  Who is really going to know that the photo you submitted with your registration isn’t you?  My first thought is, “This is kinda dumb.”

Now, under the new rules, it will certainly be easier to discover cheaters…

After the test, high schools will receive scores for all test-takers enrolled at that school. A registration-data repository will be created with students’ information and photos for review upon request by high schools, colleges, universities, and the Education Testing Services office of testing integrity.

… but who is actually going to sit down and do the (now easier) work?  Who is going to sit down with the high school year book, or the freshman facebook and check the faces?

  • ETS has every reason to do it, but they can’t do it, because they don’t know what the kid really looks like.
  • High schools seem to be in the best position — and from the Times article, that seems to be where ETS is expecting enforcement.  But what incentive to schools have to actually check these things?
  • College have some incentive — but it’s harder for them to know in advance what the student really looks like absent requesting a photograph (which is sure to bring lawsuits — there’s already mutterings about whether ETS should send the photos to the colleges).
  • Parents?  They’re probably the ones paying the proxy in the first place.

If this does work, it will be at the high school level.  And ETS will have successfully contracted out its security services to high schools across the nation without paying them a dime.

Hmm.  That’s not dumb at all.  That’s kind of brilliant.