As expected, the informed and ill-informed are weighing in on the significance of the revisions of the SAT announced last week.
Columnist Kathleen Parker weighs in, explaining, without bothering with evidence that correlations between income and SAT are the fault of bad teachers:
But if we truly want to improve everyone’s chance at eventual employment and success, the playing field needs to be plowed and seeded well before the harvest of standardized testing.
It starts with schools and teachers, and everybody knows it.
Yet today grades are inflated to assuage low student self-esteem and justify flaws in curricula and instruction. In this setting, it seems that rigorous standardized testing is more crucial than ever. As for the income differential in comparing test scores, outcomes have more to do with access to good schools and teachers than whether certain words aren’t common among lower-income students.
While she may have gotten high SAT scores herself, she seems curiously indifferent to the place of evidence in persuasive writing, as she argues, without quoting a single college official that
These tweaks are a shame inasmuch as educators lose measures that provided critical information.
While declaring the tests “easier” because they may no longer include vocabulary words like “punctilious”, she seems not to have bothered reading her own newspaper’s analysis of the changes.
While I know that columnists don’t write their own headlines, the Southern [and Black?] vernacular of the headline as published originally in the Washington Post: The new SAT don’t care ’bout no fancy words is a nice nod to those who just know that the revisions are simply more of that Affirmative Action nonsense. In liberal Seattle, the title was changed to New SAT Test Will Be Too Easy.
One of the educators that she might have bothered to talk to is Leon Botstein, president of Bard College. Bard is one of many selective colleges that is “SAT optional” because admissions officers in these schools found no value to the information that the SAT provides, a position supported by research showing little predictive value in SAT scores (news that Parker’s Washington Post covered in a business column about declining market shares for the College Board. While she may have a “rich vocabulary” as measured by her SAT scores, she seems curiously lacking in research, or even Googling skills).
In a Time magazine column, Botstein writes:
The blunt fact is that the SAT has never been a good predictor of academic achievement in college. High school grades adjusted to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates are. The essential mechanism of the SAT, the multiple choice test question, is a bizarre relic of long outdated twentieth century social scientific assumptions and strategies. As every adult recognizes, knowing something or how to do something in real life is never defined by being able to choose a “right” answer from a set of possible answers (some of them intentionally misleading) put forward by faceless test designers who are rarely eminent experts. No scientist, engineer, writer, psychologist, artist, or physician—and certainly no scholar, and therefore no serious university faculty member—pursues his or her vocation by getting right answers from a set of prescribed alternatives that trivialize complexity and ambiguity.
These revisions in the SAT were spurred by the College Board’s drop in market shares because excellent, rigorous schools dropped the SAT as a requirement because they could not demonstrate that the tests predicted success in college. Any journalist can readily find that information.
To pretend that the revisions are instead about dumbing down college admissions is disingenuous at best, classist and racist at worst.
Unlike the words in the vocabulary section of the SAT, “classist” and “racist” are each only two syllable words, because straightforward language is unlikely to obscure what is actually being said.
October 24, 2013
There are so many disturbing things in this piece in today’s Inside Higher Education about data systems that allow college recruiters to “micro target” students.
First is the focus on recruiting students who don’t need financial aid:
“Everybody wants to go to the magic island of full-pay students, but it’s rapidly shrinking real estate,” said Bill Berg, an enrollment management consultant at Scannell & Kurz.
Some consulting firms are promising to help colleges try to get paying students, or students who have other means that don’t require colleges to discount their tuition prices. RightStudent gathers and sells data on students to help colleges find specific types of students, including students with families wealthy enough to pay for college and students who can receive outside scholarships for other characteristics, including specific learning disabilities.
Then there are the insinuations that colleges may use zip code as proxies for income and race in deciding who will or won’t be recruited, and the resistance to establishing policies for policing such practices.
Then there is the news that 4 year colleges may spend up to $2500 to recruit each enrollee, when I’m clear that no one is spending anything close to that to recruit students from places like my high school.
And finally there is the implication that colleges may also use these data sets to actively recruit applicants that they know will never be admitted, all so that they can boast of their selectivity.
Families of poor and working kids already face so many challenges when navigating the path to college, and now they have to be savvy about why they are or are not getting recruiting contacts from colleges. I’m imagining the confused pride around being recruited by a college that seems beyond one’s reach, but beginning to imagine what it might be like to be someone who does belong in such a place, only to get a letter months later denying my application, with little or no explanation, all so that that college can boost its selectivity rankings.
All this, when we continue to spout rhetoric about higher ed being about the shining path to opportunity and mobility.
September 24, 2013
I clicked on the link right away. The very title in my New York Times news alert email drew me in: ”An Education in Equality” and I was intrigued by the TImes’ move into video work as part of their reporting. The brief description promised that I would learn about an African American boy admitted at age 4 to the prestigious Dalton School in Manhatten.
In the initial scenes we see the child’s family in a large and beautifully equipped kitchen, then the child leaving for school through large beautiful wooden doors of his large home.
We soon learn that his father is a Stanford educated physician, and his mother is a lawyer.
I applaud the accomplishments of this young man and the ambitions of his parents. I fully acknowledge the many questions that come with formulating dreams for one’s children, especially as people of color, even if I will never fully know the emotional weight of those questions myself. I fully acknowledge the racism that permeates the daily lives of young Black men.
And what’s troubling me now as I write is the title of this piece.
This story has little to do with equality.
This is about the challenges of an upper middle class family who, in spite of their accomplishments, still face obstacles as they seek the most prestigious education possible for their son.
That is an important story, and one that needs to be told. Racism is real, even among the highly educated.
But I’m unsettled by the framing of a story of education at the upper levels of economic privilege as being about “equality”.
I’m reminded instead of Seamus Khan’s similar story of diversity in an elite school being framed for what it was: An education for privilege and elite status.
But it was not a study about equality.
UPDATE: The movie is now out, and the New York Times’ review is here. One sample:
“Expecting great things,” it reads, “we set out to document the boys’ entire education.” What follows is an intellectually murky look at two children that hovers around race, class and gender and consistently fails to take the child’s point of view as each faces a rigorous academic regime, demanding parents, disorders and worse. By the time Idris and Seun are preadolescents, they’re struggling, and so are the filmmakers.
August 23, 2013
While President Obama is on his bus tour promoting his ideas for making college more affordable, so many barriers remain in place for low-income students. The federal financial aid form — the FAFSA — is one barrier that could be fixed, but isn’t.
Sara Goldrick Rab has been retweeting students’ laments about the FAFSA as another school year starts, and today she “Storified” the Tweets. This us a must read.
My colleague speak often about the financial aid available to our students. My sense is that few people working in higher ed know how challenging the financial aid paperwork can be for many students — especially for First Generation students.
August 12, 2013
There’s growing evidence that college going has become highly stratified, with low-income students enrolling in community colleges and non-competitive undergraduate schools, while more privileged peers attend more elite universities.
A new study by Daniel Rudel and Natasha Yurk reported at the American Sociological Association meetings this week suggests another layer of stratification, with those who go into debt for school reporting that they are less involved in social activities and campus life and more focused on work. One group of borrowers report being largely disengaged from school altogether. According to the authors:
College leaders need to remember, she said, that debt doesn’t just allow people to enroll in college, but changes their experience there. “Debt polarizes people,” Yurk said. “There is a chance students will gain responsibility. But there is a risk students get disengaged.”