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?

 SAT Reading Stamina

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I just posted a blog about the release of new SAT practice tests that you can find here. As I started to work through the tests, I expected to be struck by one of the many changes that the test has undergone, but the first thing I noticed was on the very first page:

Reading Test

65 Minutes, 52 Questions

While several components of the reading section have been excised, rather than three shorter sections the test now contains one massive reading question. The version I looked at spanned 15 pages. This is going to be a serious test of stamina.

Allow me to sound like an old man for a minute. When I heard about this change from my wife, my response was “Good. That’s what college is. You have to sit down and focus intently for an hour, and then you have to do it again.” Back in my day we had attention spans longer than 140 characters. We communicated in full sentences, not text messages. (Okay, I’ve probably pushed the old man bit too far now. For the sake of accuracy, we did have text messaging when I was in college, but it cost $0.10 per text so we didn’t use it that much.)

But seriously, I really do think this reading section is going to be a massive test of attention spans. In an era where two paragraph-long posts need a TL;DR summary at the bottom (Too Long; Didn’t Read) we aren’t used to having our focus tested like the SAT is doing.

There is, however, a solution. Sit down and read. Make it a habit to set a timer for 65 minutes (or more), turn off and put out of reach your phone, TV, radio or anything else that might distract and just read. The silence can be jarring at times in our world of multi-tasking (or more accurately multi-distracting) but if you make this a habit you’re not only going to improve your focus and chances on the SAT, you’re probably going to find that it’s your most productive time of the day. Make good habits and build your reading stamina because the new SAT is coming.

TL;DR- You better make the time to read because the SAT reading section is a long longer than this blog post

 New SAT Tests Available

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The College Board recently released four full-length sample tests for the new SAT that will be debuting Spring 2016. You can access the tests here. If you’re currently a senior in high school, don’t worry this new version of the test won’t apply to you, but if you’re a sophomore or junior you should definitely take a look.

One nice resource that the College Board has provided is that there are explanations for the answers in these tests. Beyond learning what you needed to know in order to get the question correct, these explanations can often offer insight into how the test maker would like you to think about the problems, and what skills the test wants to make sure you have. I would budget just as much time to review the test as you do to take it. It can be extremely helpful to read the explanations both for the problems you got wrong AND for the problems you got correct. When you review a problem that you got correct you often come across a more efficient way to attack similar problems in the future. Alternately, a proposed solution may simply offer a different way to look at things that you hadn’t thought about before that you can add to your toolkit. Finally, reviewing the answer for a problem you got correct may serve to validate that you approached the problem exactly the right way. That it certainly worth the time it takes to review as it solidifies good habits!

When you go into these practice tests I’d encourage you to keep an open mind. I’m sure you’ve heard quite a few things about what this new SAT will be. Some are probably true, some are certainly exaggerated, and some are just wrong. Just like you’re better off forming your opinions on a new person based on facts and personal experience, you’re better off getting familiar with this new SAT before you judge her.

Feel free to give your feedback. Now that you’ve seen what it will look like, what do you think of the new SAT?

 

 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!