College, Career, and Cremation Benchmarks

As the new school year begins, I am anxiously awaiting (read: dreading) the forthcoming SAT and ACT annual reports and with them the inevitable exaggerations, hand-wringings, misinterpretations, and statistical paralogisms that will follow. The College Board’s Total Group Reports and ACT’s Condition of College and Career Readiness Reports (or Profile Reports) will not only spark the annual “sky-is-falling because district scores have dropped .005 points” responses but will also likely lead to an uptick in the “SAT/ACT scores show students not ready to succeed in college, career, life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.”

Continue reading College, Career, and Cremation Benchmarks


Did Khan Pull Out His Disruptor?

Over the last few days, I’ve been texted, tweeted, gchatted, emailed and called about the release of College Board’s/Khan Academy’s SAT prep resources. I’ve been forwarded article, after article, after article, about the playing field leveling that College Board is touting its partnership with Khan Academy will bring.  I’ve been asked for my opinion and thoughts on Khan’s resources and the implications for my job and industry. So here it is, my unfiltered (mostly) thoughts on Khan Academy “Official SAT Practice.”

No self-respecting child of the 80’s and sci-fi fan should ever speak of Khan without a passing reference to Star Trek.


The partnering of Khan Academy and College Board is certainly a significant step for low income students. The key benefits of Khan’s SAT prep are:

  1. Greater opportunity and access for free – This relationship creates the opportunity for low income students to have reliable free practice, which until now has not been easily found. Students, parents, teachers, and counselors now know immediately where they can send a student to find practice tools for the SAT.
  1. High quality practice questions – Khan’s practice questions will be high quality because their relationship with the College Board will give KA a resource to verify that accuracy and appropriateness of their questions. Prior to this relationship the validity of free online SAT practice materials was questionable at best. (I’ve seen some terrible practice SAT materials both in stores and online, in fact most of the free SAT resources online are terrible.)
  1. Ease of use and access – Setting up and using KA’s site is relatively painless and in this day and age most students have probably already accessed it at some point. This means by adding SAT practice tools, they are simply improving an already useful tool. This is great for students.
  1. Integration with College Board results - In the fall there are plans to integrate further with College Board test results. PSAT and SAT test-takers will be able to add their test results to their KA accounts and get analysis and feedback. This again is great since it allows a one-stop shopping for information and analysis.
  1. Boys and Girls Clubs of America - The most interesting and least clear part of the College Board’s venture into test prep is the partnership not with Khan Academy but with the Boys and Girls Club. Reports are spotty but have indicated everything from College Board providing support setting up computer labs to College Board putting tutors in the Boys and Girls Clubs to provide actual teaching. If there is large scale free instruction supported by the College Board that will be truly interesting and helpful for low income students.
  1. Ongoing improvement - It seems that KA has an active team of professionals working to improve the product. This is amazing and bodes well because I’m anticipating that the College Board hasn’t yet finished tinkering with the SAT (and won’t finish until May 2016).

So while clearly there are great potential benefits to the advent of KA’s SAT tools, it’s also important to be aware of the limitations. Most of the articles I’ve seen about KA have ignored completely or paid scant attention to the potential problems with KA. These articles are touting Khan as the grand equalizer of economically and racially aligned score discrepancies on the SAT.  It’s not. Khan is a tool. It’s a nice, well-designed free tool. And like any tool it will only be as good as those using it. I don’t object to the existence of KA SAT tools (in fact I’m excited by them), my concern is about the impact of touting it as a solution to inequalities. Let’s explore some of the key limitations with KA:


  1. Access is not effectiveness – Khan provides OPPORTUNITY to practice. It’s ACCESS to materials. But just because you are provided access and opportunity that does not mean it will be used and if it’s not used then no matter how good it is there will be no effect or leveling of the playing field. One of my concerns about Khan’s effectiveness is about access (since there are lots of studies saying low income students do not have the same internet access or solely access the web via mobile). Living Without Broadband In 2015: How 55 Million Americans Find Jobs, Study, Watch YouTube
  1. Access is not engagement- Another of my concerns is engagement. Logging on to KA periodically when you have a sticky math problem in homework is very different from the consistent practice generally necessary to improve SAT scores. Will students be engaged enough to use the site? Historically, College Board’s prep tools have only been mildly used (I’ve been told by districts that usage of College Board’s SAT Online Course which comes free with most SAT School Day contracts is less than 10% as is use of the My College Quickstart site that is included for every PSAT test taker). Are these videos enough to keep student engaged? Pew Research: U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015
  1. Free access is free for everyone – No matter how great Khan is at providing resources for low income students, high income students will also be able to access those resources to supplement their high priced tutoring programs. Any claims that this tool will minimize the score differentials overlooks that KA tools are available to all regardless of how much the family makes.
  1. Academic preparation is not test preparation - There is a big difference between academic learning and preparing specifically for a test. College Board and Khan provide more of the academic learning (they’ve actually said so). They are focused on more academic approaches. Here is an interesting comparison by Stacey Howe-Lott of Stellar Scores on how a test prep person might do a question vs how an academic might do the same question.
  1. Testing is not the same – All the great practice in the world is generally not sufficient to replicate the experience of take a proctored exam in a crowded room with other kids sniffling and tapping and stressing. Khan will never be able to truly simulate the experience of taking the test.


So what’s the upshot of all of this? 

While Khan is shaping up to be a great resource it’s important to not get too enamored with the potential of the shiny new toy. Khan will help those who have had no access to quality free resources, but it will probably not level a playing field that is slanted at every level of education starting in utero and culminating in the workplace.  Additionally Khan has been around for years delivering lessons for everything from algebra to physics and yet somehow the teaching industry has not been disrupted, it’s unlikely this will upend the test prep industry.


The keys for taking advantage of Khan will be to start using it early and over a sustained period of time to build academic skills and gain comfort with the material on the SAT. If you don’t make the gains you want or have very little time, then it might make sense to look into actual test preparation options.


What’s your thoughts ? What did I miss? What articles or research do I need to read or link to? Please put it in the comments!

A couple of articles that get it right


In the Game of Tests You Win or You Die

game-of-thrones-game-of-thrones-20575232-1160-1600This morning, as I waited for the Khan Academy to make available its “thousands of College Board/Khan Academy designed practice items” and its four official redesigned SAT practice tests, I caught up on Game of Thrones (and if you don’t know about GOT immediately stop reading this blog and go watch all 5 seasons or read the books). Naturally, the show (and lack of sleep) inspired connections and comparisons, the most interesting of which led me to ask myself which character in the world of Westeros is David Coleman? After much scholarly debate, exhaustive research, and painful soul-searching, I arrived at these three candidates. I now put it to you, fair denizens of the Digital Realm, to help me resolve the matter. Below are the contenders and my rationale for their inclusion, at the end is a poll. Enjoy!


The Holy Man


The new High Septon is devout and ascetic of nature while kindly and unassuming in appearance.  Unlike his predecessor, who compromised his religious beliefs and practices to gain material comforts and enrich wealth of the Faith of the Seven, the new High Septon holds rigidly (perhaps too rigidly) to the rules of the church and the service of the people. The new High Septon has disregarded wealth and status in his application of the rules and punishments for violations of the rules of the church. His brand of equity and support of the common man has brought queens low and raised paupers high. His brand of leadership has upended the typical relation between church and state and the Septon believes that his knowledge of what’s right (guided by the holy word) is unquestionable.

Is Coleman ignoring education practice and custom? Is Coleman going to violently disrupt the current order? Is Coleman correct about the abusive and corrupting nature of the test prep industry? Is it the test prep industry ruining the purity of the testing process and does the responsibility fall to Coleman to root out that corruption?  Is Coleman the evangelist of the education world here to recenter our mores and renorm our educational compass?


The Whoremonger

Lord Petyr Baelish, fondly known as Littlefinger, has risen from his humble beginnings to become not only a wealthy 8d27dc863633a57b6d9b20917c7fff3fmerchant (running the most successful brothel in King’s Landing) but also a landed lord in his own right. He has operated from the dark corners of society moving the visible and ostensibly more powerful players in the Game of Thrones into positions in which they are either beholden to him or subservient to him. As with our other candidates, there is a core of good to Littlefinger, there is an element of selflessness that is constantly at war with the selfishness of self-aggrandizement and preservation.

Is David Coleman the educational fleshpeddler, selling cheap wine and transient feel good moments which offer no lasting value but lull us into a feeling of comfort and security? Is Coleman operating from the fringes of education, lining up the dominoes so that the SAT and Common Core will fall the direction he wants? What is Coleman’s endgame, while it seems he isn’t seeking the throne (currently held by King Arne, first of his name) no one seems to understand what he is seeking? Are the underrepresented groups David Coleman’s Sansa Stark, to be maneuvered and positioned in what could be (after a great deal of pain and humiliation) an enormous benefit to their ultimate longevity and success?


The Imp

Tyrion Lannister is the second son of arguably the most powerful family in Westeros, yet he is torn (and motivated by) the challenge of being born a “dwarf.” Tyrion has spent much of his life competing for his father’s affection and respect against his Adonis-like brother and statuesque sister using his rapier like intellect. He made a place in the corrupt and unkind world both because of and in spite of his family name. He’s turned his not-unsubstantial wit into a weapon not only in defense of family and realm but also to hide an honest and good heart.CS 65 Friday 22nd October 2010

Does the well intentioned Tyrion reflect David Coleman’s struggle to resolve his good intentions to support students with the need to hawk his primary moneymaker (the SAT). Is Coleman’s College Board Lannisters to ETS’s Targaryens? Is Coleman merely the scion of a powerful but corrupt family struggling to do the best he can with the lot in life his is given while working to help as many in the realm as possible?