The Questions I Get Asked

Recently, I was invited by a small group of mothers to a home to discuss the college admissions process and standardized testing. These moms are well to do and college educated. They are also mostly African-American. Among the many questions and topics of discussion were the questions listed below. I’m just going to post them without commentary and allow you to draw from it what you will.

 

-How much do test scores really matter to colleges and universities?
-How should I prepare my child for the college admissions tests?
-In general, what are some strategies and support that position students of color for test taking success?
– Do students of color spend as much time preparing for standardized tests?

– Do you perceive students of color to feel as confident about taking the tests? Will the new SAT be helpful to test results in general?

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A Tale of Two College Processes

With close of the “college application season,” I’m once again reminded of the stark differences in the college application process for students from low income families and that for the 1%. With every blog or article I read, I’m continually reminded how divided America is in every way. Divided informationally. Divided experiencially. Divided economically. Divided racially. Divided educationally. Just divided. This division is no small matter, it’s a chasm that starts with access to pre-k programming, blossoms in primary school, matures throughout higher education, and culminates in the workplace. The college admissions process is not immune to these conditions and concerns (despite its theoretical claims to a meritocracy). In fact, the college application and admission process may be the very nexus of these myriad issues and bring to a head the years-long growth of inequity between the haves and have-nots. But since I can’t address, cure, or understand all the ills of society, I’ll just explore differences between the college preparation and application process for the haves and have-nots (and yes I’ll ignore America’s shrinking middle class).

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The Perils of Calculator Permission

As the College Board gears up to launch the revised SAT in March of 2016, one of the changes coming is a seemingly minor revision of the rules for the Math sections. This revision will change the 20 year old policy that has allowed the indiscriminate the use of calculators on math sections and may have a huge impact on test-takers. The current SAT has 3 scored math sections and in each section test-takers are allowed to use a calculator, or not, as they see fit. The current test makes no distinction (either implicit or explicit) among the math sections about the necessity or appropriateness of calculator usage. Well Interestingly, when the revised SAT launches it will have 2 scored math sections and in one of the two sections calculator use will be forbidden. While the College Board seems to be soft-selling this as if it will be no major change, I’m not certain at all that the impact of this change in procedure won’t have a deleterious impact. Having worked with teens in test preparation for more than 20 years, this distinction has me worried about unintended consequences. What immediately pops to mind are the following questions:

  • Will the inclusion of a “calculator permitted” section translate to this calculator dependent generation as “calculator necessary”?
  • Will the mention of calculator permitted cause additional stress for students who do not have a calculator or cannot afford a “good” calculator?
  • Is the college board assuming that students will all be made aware of the fine distinction between permitted and necessary prior to taking the exam?
  • Will this seemingly small change to the SAT hurt scores of the most vulnerable populations?

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The Sky is Falling!

Among my least favorite things that come with the fall season are pumpkin spice everything, the college ranking freak out, and the data misinterpretation that stems from the release of the yearly state SAT scores. Each year after the College Board releases data on the average scores you get a new round of newspaper articles and 6 o’clock news reports on whether that state’s (or district’s) scores have fallen or risen. But what is consistently left out in the rush to report is any attempt at providing relevance and meaning to the numbers. Let’s check out some of this year’s journalistic gems: Continue reading The Sky is Falling!

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College Board or Test prep Companies: Who Has it Right?

One of the more interesting debates of the past 30 years has been the efficacy test prep programs. In one corner you have College Board (CB) citing a seemingly vast number of studies that support the idea that test prep is at best minimally effective. Many of us have likely heard or read College Board reports that suggest that SAT scores are near immutable and that from one test to the next scores will only change by negligible amounts. In the other corner you have a billion dollar test prep industry making score claims that fly in the face of all information given by College Board. Additionally, many of us also have friends (or have friends who have friends) whose children attended prep classes and improved by 200 or 300 points.

 

Reading the papers and following the blogs, one is led to believe that the only choice families and schools have is whether to believe the “evil test creator” who seemingly exists to torture kids with 4-hour long tests or the “greedy test prep companies” who are bilking families out of billions of dollars by making them pay for prep that doesn’t work. Faced with this conflicting information one could easily be confused about who’s right, what the real story is, and what to do to help your child or student. How do parents, educators, administrators or students sort through the noise and determine how to put their child in a position to succeed on these tests (and more importantly get into college). Let’s explore the factors that lead to the disagreement and shed some light on the issue.

Continue reading College Board or Test prep Companies: Who Has it Right?

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