Tuesday, March 4, 2014

That dang SAT ....

A friend of mine shared this article.  It appeared yesterday in The New Yorker.


It is a good read and I do admire this mom's pluck.  But, I think what she details in this article reveals more about the American "school-conditioned" thinking than it does about the SAT.

The author of the article sets out to conquer the SAT herself in order to motivate her kids.  It backfired.  My hat is off to her for even trying!  (I really have to meet this mom!)   I've been humbled multiple times by questions on this exam.

Couple of facts:  The SAT (while we all hate it) actually does a good job at predicting a student's success in college.  These words from Duke University sum it up well:  The SAT I measures verbal and mathematical skills that are important for college success; as such, it furnishes colleges with a relatively easy and inexpensive way to acquire information about students’ abilities in these areas. Colleges also respect the SAT I because it provides a yardstick with which to compare applicants from different high schools and communities.

So why are there SO MANY articles ridiculing the SAT?   The answer to this, I think, is simple statistics.  Look at the distribution of SAT scores for college bound students in 2013:

494 students scored a perfect 2400
6,600 students scored 2000
20,063 students scored 1510
20,394 students scored 1400
18,561 students scored 1300
10,360 students scored 1100

1,660,000 students took the test in 2013.  The average score was 1499.

When there are so many more students doing poorly on this test, there will be many more writers denouncing it openly.  I have never heard a student who scored high on this test doubting its virtues.  If you examine the drop-out and transfer rates at highly competitive colleges, it is remarkably low.  Most of those high-scoring students seem to be where they belong.   Even more interesting is the fact that transferring to less competitive colleges is most common in students whose SAT scores were borderline in the first place. We do not have to like these facts but we should not, as a culture, look for ways to make the test easier.

The problem does not begin with this test.  The problem begins with unrealistic expectations in parents and students.

For over a decade I have heard parents tell me that their kids go to "one of the best public schools in the state".   I  marvel at this statistical impossibility and the naivete that clings to it.

In fact, engaged parents who have used their public schools should not encounter any surprises when the time comes to have their kids take the SAT.  They should have looked up the average SAT scores for their local public schools and they should know what the predicted outcome is long before they are dealing with their own teenager's preparedness for this exam.  If a parent has high hopes for her student, then she should have this student on board the same cruise ship she is on before he begins high school.  There would be fewer surprises and less frustration and discord.

There is nothing wrong with the SAT, other than the fact that it is hard.  But, it does not test a student on the specific curriculum  used in her school.  It tests the student's ability to think.  This is why a good high school student can get a lousy score.  A kid who gets straight A's at Joe Jones High School is not necessarily going to do well on this reasoning test.

Will rich families with plenty of $$ to toss into SAT Prep get a better result?  Maybe.  But, remember - all the money in the world cannot purchase a kid's cooperation.  It cannot purchase a shared vision.  It cannot purchase determination in a kid.  But any parent can plant these seeds early on in a kid's life.

Academically successful families tend to spend LOTS of time, beginning in elementary school, bringing their kids into the fold - preparing them for academic leadership - molding them to stand out by committing to the very hard work of being better.  These kids start high school with clear goals, fully participating parents, and a family culture of excellence through tremendous focus and effort. These families are never caught off guard. These families do not rely solely on what their public school tells them. They send their kids to the public school -  but they lead their kids.  They do not abdicate to weary counselors or distracted administrators. Most importantly, the kids want the same things as their parents - they are on the same team.  THIS is the goal.

There are many things a parent can do, regardless of income:

1.  Engage early - don't be caught off guard.
2.  Have reasonable expectations.  Not every kid belongs in college.
3.  Do your own research on the SAT scores of the students in your local schools.
4.  Get your kid on your side - work as a team

Much can be learned by looking at the habits of families with academically successful children, but, of course, academic success is only one kind of success.



Regarding The College Board's announcement today (March 5th) on the big changes planned for the SAT beginning in Spring 2016 ....am I the only one suspicious about the potential connection to the national conflict over Common Core Initiatives? The Common Core is an effort to standardize curriculum in all states in the union.  Individual states are fighting this.  David Coleman's side-business could be deeply affected if most states are not on board the common core wagon.  So, as president of College Board, he aligns the SAT to "curriculum"?  (Rather than have it remain the reasoning test that it has always been.)  Sounds like a chess move to me.  Mr. Coleman's side business is: Achievethecore.org :: About Us

That's right - only 24 hours after posting the above, the College Board announces sweeping changes!  David Coleman says it is to help the underprivileged.   What?  I doubt that.  Most of the math section must be done without a calculator, now.  How will this help, exactly?  Were calculators holding these kids back in some way?     I think the changes have more to do with David Coleman's other business ....his deep involvement with Common Core.

The College Board:  Magnanimous or Megalomaniacal ?  (You probably won't see these vocabulary words on the "new" SAT.   I think the latter - for what it's worth.)

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