ACT-Kaplan Join Forces to Increase …

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On Tuesday April 19th, I woke to find the following press release in my inbox.

Las Vegas, NV (April 18th, 2016) – ACT, (the other test maker) has decided to partner with Kaplan Test Prep to offer free standardized test prep, in a new effort to emphasize the ineffectuality of standardized tests. This new state of the art online testing program will be at least partially live (Take that KHAN ACADEMY with your pre-recorded doodles). Though it’s not entirely free to all students, Kaplan promises to provide lots of free test prep to low-income students to help dial down the reality that it is a for-profit company making bank on this new partnership. With this new program, Kaplan promises to utilize the same top-notch online portal used for classes at Kaplan University. (Ranked 137th Best Online College and ranked equally with the notable Oral Roberts University.)

 

This new program entitled: Kaplan Online Program Outreach for Underserved Tutorials (or simply KOPOUT) features lessons from seasoned Master Ninjas who no longer need silly things like textbooks to cover the material that isn’t showing up in high school this year.

 

“We know that helping kids help understand the help they need should not go unhelped,” says ACT COO, Kyle Ren. “After all, we think it’s beneficial to work with test prep companies, as they’ve made it their business to recognize the flaws we’ve created. It’s like, you know when like the Terminator came back and he was like, I’m not here to kill you like I’m here to help save your kid from the shiny new guy who wants to kill you. And he can like mold himself into anything at all, and that’s like, useful and stuff. So we’ve got the Terminator on our side. Or are we the Terminator? I don’t know. I guess one of us is the Terminator.”

 

KOPOUT also includes the following features:

  • An online platform with prerecorded lessons over the backdrop of a 1980’s yearbook setting.
  • Sciencey science for the Science section discussing the charts and graphs and other things ACT takes for college level Science.
  • Real ACT questions which are totally different from the ones you’d find in the book they’re about to publish for more money.
  • A social network of like-minded kids using the service as an excuse for learning instead of snap chatting nasty comments to their ex-girlfriend.
  • Quinoa.

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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

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