Higher is better

Colleges go ‘test-optional’ to fool rankings

When colleges go “test-optional” — applicants need not submit SAT or ACT scores — they claim it’s a way to increase diversity. That’s not the reason, writes Stephen Burd on the Hechinger Report. It’s a way to boost college rankings.

“Test-optional policies overall have not been the catalysts of diversity that many have claimed them to be,” concludes a 2014 University of Georgia study.

When applicants don’t need to submit SAT or ACT scores, more students apply, especially those with poor scores, writes Burd. “For the colleges, more applicants mean more students they can reject, which lowers their acceptance rate and raises the institution’s perceived selectivity.”

Only students with good scores send them in. “Many schools then use only these scores to calculate their average scores,” writes Burd.

Mean SAT scores rise by 26 points on average when a college goes test-optional, concludes the University of Georgia study.

With lower acceptance rates and higher average SAT/ACT scores, test-optional colleges move up in U.S. News rankings of the “best” colleges. That draws more applicants and allows the college to reject even more people.

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.”

Employers ask for old SAT scores

“Plenty of employers” ask job candidates about their SAT scores, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Consulting firms such as Bain & Co. and McKinsey & Co. and banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ask new college recruits for their scores, while other companies request them even for senior sales and management hires, eliciting scores from job candidates in their 40s and 50s.

College Board keeps SAT scores on file forever, so lying is risky.

Some companies are reluctant to hire people who’ve scored below the 95th percentile in math.

However, Google, which used to look closely at “grade-point averages, test scores and alma mater,” has changed tactics, reports the Journal. Internal studies found “very little correlation between SAT scores and job performance,” said Kyle Ewing, head of global staffing. Google now puts more stress on “interview questions that probe how a potential hire has solved complex problems,” reports the Journal.

Study: High school grades predict college grades

College students admitted without submitting SAT or ACT scores do just as well as “submitters,” concludes a new study. Applicants with good high school grades will earn good college grades and complete a degree, said William Hiss, the study’s main author.  He is the former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, one of the first colleges to go test-optional.  

Defining Promise looks at students admitted to small, private liberal arts schools with test-optional policies and large public universities that admit most students based on high school grades and class rank.  (For the public universities, the study looked at admitted students with below-average test scores.) Also included were a few minority-serving institutions and two art schools.

Submitters had slightly higher high school grades and significantly lower test scores.  Their college grades and graduation rates were very similar to nonsubmitters’ success rates.

While many students outperformed their SAT or ACT scores, high school grades strongly predicted college success, the study found. 

. . .  kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.

Hiss says it’s probably not so surprising that a pattern of hard work, discipline and curiosity in high school shows up “as highly predictive, in contrast to what they do in three or four hours on a particular Saturday morning in a testing room.”

I can’t see elite colleges and universities going test optional: They have way too many straight-A applicants.

The SAT will be redesigned to “strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills” needed in college, said David Coleman, the new board president, in a letter to College Board members. Some believe the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which is gaining market share.

Coleman, a co-author of Common Core standards, has promised to “move beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity for students so they will be better prepared to succeed in college.” Nobody knows what “delivering opportunity” means, writes Alexander Russo.

Miami-Dade wins Broad Prize

Miami-Dade’s school district has won the Broad Prize for Urban Education, after five years as a finalist, reports Ed Week.

More black and Hispanic students are scoring “advanced” on state tests and graduating, the foundation said. In addition, more students are taking the SATs and earning higher scores.

(Superintendent Alberto) Carvahlo drew attention to improvements in some of the district’s lowest-performing schools, which he attributed partly to the Data/COM (short for Data assessment, technical assistance, coordination of management, according to Carvalho) process. During Data/COM, school officials analyze a school’s challenges and debate solutions, Carvahlo said.

. . . The district’s budget has also improved dramatically under Carvalho’s tenure, which was noted by the jury. “This may seem strange, but we actually embraced the economic recession as an opportunity to leverage and accomplish change,” he said. The district found additional government and foundation funding and made sure all spending was directed at improving student achievement, Carvalho said.

Runner-ups were Palm Beach County (Florida), Houston and Corono-Norco (California).

Boston Superintendent Carol R. Johnson was honored as the best urban superintendent by the Council of Great City Schools.

Spending skyrockets, scores don’t

While spending per-student has “taken off like a moonshot ,” SAT “scores have stayed the same or declined, reports Neal McCluskey at Cato @ Liberty. The fact that more students are taking the SAT doesn’t account for “the overwhelming lack of correlation between spending and scores,” especially as National Assessment of Education Progress scores also have flatlined.

Conservatives are incoherent on federal education policy, McCluskey adds, criticizing Rick Hess and Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute for their analysis of federal micromanaging. An addiction to spending federal money and a love of ”standards and accountability” leads to “a great big refuse heap of squandered money, red tape, educational stagnation, and political failure.” Yet Hess and Kelly don’t call for the feds to get out of education policy.

Unprepared in SAT prep class

A straight A student in Los Angeles schools, Andrea Lopez went to a SAT prep workshop and realized she was way behind students from other high schools. Will my best be good enough? she asks in LA Youth. She couldn’t do a single math problem. Other students knew vocabulary that she’d never learned, such as “spurious” and “cogent.” After years of being the best student in class, she felt stupid.

Her advisory teacher at Social Justice Humanitas, an academy within a larger high school, explained that her fears were reasonable.

Most of our parents, he pointed out, can’t help us with school because they didn’t finish high school or don’t speak English. Or they have to work all day to put food on the table. He was right. My parents stopped helping me with homework around fourth grade.

. . . “Most of those kids will have it easier than you guys because their parents are able to provide them with what they need,” he said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to know that you put in a strong effort to get to that dream college?” he continued. “That you made it work because you were determined and you understood everything you learned in school and you didn’t just wing it?”

Later, Lopez talked to Social Justice Humanitas graduates at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and San Diego State, who said they’d taken community college classes in high school, performed community service and joined clubs “to show colleges that they were well rounded.”

“I know we can make it if we are determined to work our hardest,” Lopez concludes.

With straight A’s, she’ll make it to state universities, but she’ll need reading, writing and some math skills to earn a degree. I’m a big fan of hard work, but I’d feel better about her chances if she’d talked to her high school math teacher about how to solve those math (advanced algebra?) problems. What can she do to learn it so she’ll have options in college? And her English teacher may be able to help too.

This girl has met every expectation in school. Now, with one year of high school to go, she learns the expectations were too low. She got a pep talk. She needs a study plan.

Success in numbers

It takes a “posse” to create a college graduate: By sending disadvantaged students to college ing groups of 10, the Posse Foundation has boosted success rates, reports the New York Times.

Posse chooses students with leadership, problem-solving and teamwork skills through a very competitive process.  A group of 10 meets during their senior and through the summer, then goes to the same elite college.

Posse Scholars’ combined median reading and math SAT score is only 1050, while the median combined score at the colleges Posse students attend varies from 1210 to 1475. Nevertheless, they succeed. Ninety percent of Posse Scholars graduate — half of them on the dean’s list and a quarter with academic honors. A survey of 20 years of alumni found that nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they had founded or led groups or clubs. There are only 40 Posse Scholars among Bryn Mawr’s 1,300 students, but a Posse student has won the school’s best all-around student award three times in the past seven years.

This is not about the SATs’ predictive power, as the Times seems to think. It shows that college students do a lot better if they have friends who support their academic goals and no financial worries.

DePauw was so impressed by the Posse Scholars’ success that the college now assigns all first-year students to small groups.  They meet regularly with an upper-class student as mentor “to talk about topics like time management, high-risk drinking and preparing for midterms.”

 

SAT asks for essay on reality TV

Asked to write an essay about reality TV on last week’s SAT exam, students are complaining that the prompt — “How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” — favors TV junkies. From the New York Times:

“This is one of those moments when I wish I actually watched TV,” one test-taker wrote on Saturday on the Web site College Confidential, under the user name “littlepenguin.”

“I ended up talking about Jacob Riis and how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively,” he wrote, invoking the 19th-century social reformer. “I kinda want to cry right now.”

The goal of the essay prompt is to “give students an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills,” not to show off their knowledge, said Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program.

This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students, and had gone through extensive pre-testing with students and teachers. “It’s really about pop culture as a reference point that they would certainly have an opinion on,” she added.

An exam has to “engage” test takers?

The full prompt contained “everything you need to write the essay,” said Peter Kauffmann, vice president of communications for the College Board.

Students read:

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular.

These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled.

How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?

The test designers apparently see writing as an isolated skill with no content knowledge required. The student who’s never watched American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Jersey Shore or Kourtney & Kim Take New York can’t cite examples to prove a point or use details to enliven his writing. He has to hope that Jacob Riis doesn’t cost him too many points.

If I faced this prompt — and I’m thankful my test-taking days are over — I’d have very little to say. I don’t think “most people” believe reality shows are authentic and I don’t think it matters. Do people benefit? No. Are they harmed? No.