SAT, ACT become high school tests

While some colleges are going “test optional” more high schools are requiring the SAT or ACT, reports the New York Times. The rival college-admissions exams are being used to assess high school performance, as required by federal education law. State are dumping the two federally funded Common Core tests, Smarter Balanced and Parcc.

In January, Delaware decided to use the SAT, instead of Smarter, Balanced, “to meet the federal requirement to test high school students,” reports the Times.  A month later, the University of Delaware “announced that it would no longer require in-state students to submit SAT scores, citing research that high school grades better predict college success.”

Montana will use the ACT instead of Smarter Balanced, and Colorado will use the SAT instead of Parcc. At least seven other states plan to replace Common Core-aligned tests with the SAT or ACT, according to the Times.

Some states see requiring a college-admissions test for all students, including those without college plans, as a way to raise aspirations.

For high school students already planning to take the SAT or ACT, the move means one less exam — with no fee. But these tests are supposed to judge college readiness, not high school performance.

Going “test optional” allows colleges to raise the number of applicants, while hiding their drop in standards, writes Gerald Bradshaw, a college-admissions consultant, in the Chicago Tribune.

Students who opt to report their scores tend to have higher scores. “Test optional colleges can admit lower scoring students while at the same time maintaining artificially higher test averages in the US News and World Report rankings.”

If they can’t read, they can’t do well in college

The new SAT, which demands sophisticated literacy skills — even in math — could “penalize students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading,” educators told the New York Times.

College instructors must teach students how to read academic books, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

College instructors must learn to teach reading, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

It’s not unfair to require high-level reading ability to get into higher-level education, responds Timothy Shanahan, who founded the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The SAT is supposed to predict college success. Poor reading is an excellent predictor of college failure.

On a recent visit to a Montana middle school, Shanahan taught several lessons which required students to read their math and science textbooks. It was a new experience, the seventh and eighth graders admitted. The teachers were good at explaining things, so the students never learned to work their way through a textbook on their own.

These students won’t be prepared for college if they can’t make sense of what they read and apply it, writes Shanahan.

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He grew up in a working-class community and wasn’t on the college-prep track in high school, he writes. But he found a list of books that college-bound students should read and tackled them. “I’m not claiming that I got as much out of reading Moby Dick or Microbe Hunters on my own at 16 as I would have under the tutelage of a good teacher (or as I have upon rereading them as an adult), but trying to understand such touchstone texts pays dividends,” he writes.

Reading challenging books will prepare students to succeed in college, writes Shanahan.  If “college entry is going to become biased against those not prepared for college . . . I think it’s about time.”

Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, is under fire for suggesting giving tuition refunds to likely-to-fail students who leave early in their first semester. “You think of the students as cuddly bunnies,” he wrote in an email to a faculty member.  “You just have to drown the bunnies.” Or, perhaps, “put a Glock to their heads.”

So, why did Mount St. Mary’s admit these no-hope “bunnies” in the first place?

New SAT requires more reading

My 16-year-old niece won’t take the new SAT, which debuts in March. Uncertainty about the redesigned SAT — and fears that it will be harder — persuaded her to take the ACT instead. Apparently, she’s not the only one.

Serena Walker took a sample test in preparation for the SAT at Match charter school in Boston in January. Photo: Shiho Fukada, New York Times

Serena Walker took a sample test in preparation for the SAT at Match charter school in Boston in January. Photo: Shiho Fukada, New York Times

The new SAT will demand more sophisticated reading skills — even in math — experts tell the New York Times.

It will be harder for students from non-English-speaking families to excel in math, Lee Weiss, the vice president of precollege programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

SAT dropped the vocabulary section of the test, saying it forced students to learn arcane words. But the new exam features longer reading passages that “contain sophisticated words and thoughts in sometimes ornate diction,” reports the Times.

The math problems include “a lot of unnecessary words,” said Serena Walker, a college-bound junior at Boston’s Match charter school, who was working on a practice quiz.

“An anthropologist studies a woman’s femur that was uncovered in Madagascar,” one question began. She knew a femur was a leg bone, but was not sure about “anthropologist.” She was contemplating “Madagascar” just as she remembered her teacher’s advice to concentrate on the essential, which, she decided, was the algebraic equation that came next, h = 60 + 2.5f, where h stood for height and f stood for the length of the femur.

“Students will need to learn how to wade through all the language to isolate the math,” wrote Jed Applerouth, who runs a national tutoring service, in a blog post. The new math test is 50 percent reading comprehension, he estimated.

The Times asks: How Would You Do on the New SAT? Check it out. I thought the math questions were ridiculously easy. Are they making the reading harder and the math easier?

SAT decline is ‘ugly’ — and ominous

The Class of 2015 SAT results are “ugly,” writes Rick Hess. Scores have sunk to the lowest point since the college-admission test was recentered.

In the past decade, reading and math scores have risen steadily for fourth- and eighth-grade students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Hess notes. So why do these gains vanish by the end of high school?

The conventional response in education circles is to conclude that we’re  continuing to get high school “wrong” — that all of the frenzied efforts to adopt new teacher-evaluation systems, standards, and curricula, digital tools, and the rest have had a big impact in K-8 schools but not in high schools.

But, maybe, we’ve been fooling ourselves, writes Hess. In response to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), states focused on reading and math in grades three through eight.

It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if schools found ways to boost those reading and math results by cannibalizing other instruction, reassigning teachers, shifting time and resources from other grades and subjects, emphasizing test preparation, and the like.

The apparent progress of elementary and middle-school students could be misleading, writes Hess. If so, our schools are in even worse shape than we realize.

SAT: 42% are college ready

Only 41.9 percent of SAT takers are prepared for college success, reports College Board. Scores have slipped to 1490 out of 2400.

While 61.3 percent of Asian students and 52.8 percent of white students met the benchmark score of 1550, just 22.7 percent of Latinos and 16.1 percent of black students did that well.

Scoring a 1550 predicts a 65 percent probability of earning a B- average in the first year in college, which is associated with a high likelihood of college success.

Only 28 percent of students who took the ACT are fully prepared for college and 40 percent are prepared in three of four subject areas, concluded an ACT report earlier this week.

More students are taking both tests. States are encouraging — and sometimes requiring — students to take a college-admissions test, usually the ACT.

Even on the SAT, the number of low-income and minority SAT takers increased slightly, reports College Board.

In March, the College Board will introduce a new SAT linked to Common Core standards. The essay will be optional. The highest score will be 1600, just like in the old days.

Khan Academy is providing free online SAT practice tests and study aids.

A tale told by an idiot

No exit, no voice

Common Core State Standards, created behind closed doors, has denied the public a voice in their schools and challenged their loyalty, writes Bill Evers in Education Next. There’s no escape from the Core: Private schools and even home-schooling parents have to teach to the standards if they want students to do well on the Core-aligned SATs. One of Common Core’s chief architects, David Coleman, now heads the College Board, which produces the SAT tests.
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In Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, he discusses how individuals react when services deteriorate. They may “exit” — leave or find a new provider — or use their “voice” to participate in politics.  But the exit option is constrained by their loyalty to institutions.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville “found Americans intensely loyal to their local schools,” writes Evers. “Americans saw schools as extensions of their families and neighborhoods.”

Today, Americans remain loyal to their local schools, but resist “an unresponsive bureaucracy carrying out edicts from distant capitals,” writes Evers.

When people see no exit, they turn to political action, he writes. Hence the blowback against Common Core and its tests.

SAT: 43% are ready for college

Forty-three percent of SAT takers in the class of 2014 are prepared for college, reports College Board. The average SAT score was 1497 out of 2400, down a point from the year before. A combined score of 1550 predicts success in college classes.

Only students aspiring to selective colleges take the SAT.  College readiness rates are even lower — 26 percent — on the ACT, which includes some students required by their states to take the exam.

Family income correlates with SAT scores, notes the Wall Street Journal.

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?

The last SAT question

Jimmy Fallon nails it: