The End of Standardized Testing?

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George Washington University (where I attended law school) recently announced that the SAT and ACT will no longer be required as part of the college application. You can read more about it here.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but they haven’t yet coalesced into a coherent and consistent idea. So, for now let me list out some ideas and let you do the analysis.

- Optional isn’t outlawed. As long as some students are allowed to submit standardized test scores, this policy doesn’t seem to have much bite. Presumably, the applications with test scores included will be ones with good scores, while the likely conclusion to be drawn from omitted test scores is that they weren’t very good. This isn’t the Fifth Amendment. Your silence can (and probably will) be used against you.

- Most of the students I’ve worked with and seen in my years in the the industry who haven’t been able to put together college-level standardized test scores were lucky that they struggled with the SAT. The truth of it is that most of these students were woefully underprepared for the academic rigor that that college offers, and encountering resistance earlier in the process rather than later is probably best.

- At the same time, I am very aware that the students I see are a very biased sample who have had many more advantages and opportunities to succeed since birth than the average kid. Socio-economically disadvantaged students score lower on average on standardized tests. I don’t attribute that to racial bias or fundamental problems with the questions being asked, but rather to two factors. The first is that lack of access to the best instruction and extra help has often put these students behind their peers since elementary school. The second is that these students tend to have less access to specialized instruction that can help unlock standardized testing. The combination of these factors produces students who are both less prepared for the SAT and less prepared for college. However, if given a shot, some of those students will thrive in an academic environment where they are given the tools to succeed. Sadly, others will be unable to overcome the deficit. Removing the requirement of standardized test scores will likely increase the number of those types of students, and that’s a situation colleges need to prepare themselves for if this trend continues.

- Removing a standardized test requirement increases the weight of high school grades. If you want an inconsistent and unreliable scale, use high school grades. The differences between the tens of thousands of high schools around the country are massive, and asking colleges to understand the idiosyncratic processes that led to each students GPA is just asking for trouble.

At minimum it’s an interesting topic. What’s your take on colleges not requiring standardized test scores?

 Parabolas

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I recently came across a problem that required knowledge of parabola formulas. That surprised me. Although parabola problems show up relatively frequently, they usually require little more than logic. However, I thought that provided a nice opportunity to refresh on all things parabola.

A parabola is defined mathematically by this formula: y= ax^2 + bx + c. We see parabolas in nature most often when we look at projectiles, like a cannonball shot out of a cannon or a jump shot out of the hand of Steph Curry. Parabolas are generally u-shaped and are symmetrical about the vertex, which is either the highest or lowest point of the parabola, depending on the orientation.

Whether our parabola is cupped upward or downward is determined by the sign of the “a” term in the formula we saw above. When a is positive, the parabola will have a vertex at the bottom and open upward. When a is negative, the parabola will have a vertex at the top and open downward.

However, there is more than one way to define a parabola mathematically. We can also solve a parabola if we have the vertex and another point on the parabola. We do that by using the similar formula y = a(x-h)^2 + k. The coordinates of the vertex are (h,k).

So using that information, find the equation of a parabola with vertex (-2,1) containing the point (1, 19). The first thing we need to do is solve for a by inserting our points into the formula. We get:

19 = a(1-(-2)^2 + 1

19= a(3^2) + 1

19= 9a + 1

Now, we put our a into the formula with our vertex (h,k), but instead of using the x and y from a specific

point we’re going to solve for the generic x and y.

y= 2(x-(-2)^2 + 1

y= 2(x+2)^2 +1

Now expand:

y=2(x+2)(x+2) +1

y=2x^2 + 8x + 9

Now we’ve solved for the equation of this parabola and we could mathematically figure out all of the

points on this curve.

I hope that’s been a good refresher on parabolas!

 Graduation Attitude

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It’s getting to be the graduation time of year when my Facebook feed is filled with smiling happy pictures of my former students who have gone on to earn college or graduate degrees. It’s wonderful to know that I was able to have a part in these stories, but more than that it offers perspective.

Ask any of those graduates what the biggest obstacle on the way to her degree was, and she won’t tell you it was the SAT or the GRE or the GMAT. That was just a first step. A stepping stone obstacle on the way to bigger and tougher challenges. Those who will be successful with those later obstacles, exhibit five key attitudes that help them achieve.

1. Be Positive- Sure skepticism is “cool” but a positive attitude breeds success. People that believe they can achieve something special are most often the ones who do.

2. Set Goals- It’s a long way between here and graduation. If you don’t set markers along the way to gauge your progress, it’s tough to succeed.

3. Build a Support System- When the going gets tough– whether now or later– you need people who care about you to be there. Whether that’s someone who will lend a sympathetic ear, help you work through a tough problem, or just take you out for ice cream and a break, successful people don’t do it alone.

4. Take the Long View- Minor disappointments are going to pop up along the way. Will you dwell on them, or will you shift your focus toward making the best of what’s ahead?

5. Keep Going- No matter what keep going. Don’t stop, and you will achieve your goals.

Now get to it and get back to studying!

 I Got In, Now What?

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Getting a great score is just the first step in your college journey. Once you put that score together with the rest of your great application, the admission letters start pouring in. But, that’s not the end of the process either. When you’ve got multiple offers, you’ve got a decision to make as this recent article from the Wall Street Journal shows.

If you’re going to understand financial aid and scholarship proposals, you need two key skills: math and critical reading. As the article points out these skills are essential to making the best decision for you. It just goes to show you that the skills you’re developing for the SAT and ACT, will serve you far beyond your test.

Take that as encouragement and keep studying hard!