I had another title all picked out for this post: It was going to be “An Interesting Week for the College Board” or something like that. But after I typed the title, I realized that the College Board and the Catholic Church share a lot in common, at least from where I sit. (And this is a good time to reiterate that the opinions on this blog are mine, and may be influenced by my work, but are in no way an official or unofficial representation of the views of my employer.)
Both the College Board and the Catholic Church:
- Claim me as a member, even though I’ve never really bought into most of the dogma
- Are fairly inflexible–some might say intransigent–about what they believe to be the one right way to do things
- Have new leaders who have brought considerable change
- Get criticized for being big cash-laden organizations who spend lavishly in light of their purported concern about the poor
- Have supporters who are fervent, dedicated believers; and those who despise the very thing they stand for
- Invoke wrath when they presumptuously try to impose their beliefs on others
- Have mostly good people in their employ who are, I believe, trying to do good, despite the opinion some people hold of the institution as a whole
- Seem to be having some trouble making both their core product and their core message resonate with people these days
But this week, The College Board got most of the attention, at least if you work in education. President David Coleman announced sweeping changes in the way the SAT is designed and administered. You can read about them all over the web, but start here if you haven’t heard.
Reaction was swift, and came from all corners: Some thought the changes were a response to the ever-growing dominance of the ACT; there were the inevitable articles about “dumbing down” the test or American education in general; The New York Times appeared to trade private access for a flattering story; some expressed great faith that the new SAT will be all it claims to be, while praising the changes; while many simply said, “meh.” The most strongly worded response came from Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College, who wrote in Time Magazine, calling the SAT “Part Hoax; Part Fraud.”
My own feelings are probably well known to anyone who reads this blog, and are admittedly a combination of hard research and personal observation:
- Any test created by someone who never taught the material to the students tested is inherently lacking
- SAT and ACT do explain freshman performance, but since the tests and High School GPA covary so strongly, it simply duplicates the effect of GPA, but does not do it better. As an incremental measure over and above High School GPA, the benefit is negligible at best.
- GPA–even compressed GPAs from 35,000 different high schools–explains more about freshman performance than the SAT or ACT (no one from either organization disputes this, by the way).
- Both tests do, in fact, measure a certain type of intelligence: Picking the “right” answer from four given. And the fact that the tests might get it right 40% of the time seems good enough for many. However, this is not necessarily the way students “do” college. In life as well as in many classes, sometimes you don’t even get the question; when you do, oftentimes the answer fails to be described in a few words.
- The tests have a very high “false negative” and a very low “false positive” for whatever it is (and we can’t always even define what it is) they purport to measure.
- Insecure people who have high standardized test scores are often the ones touting the value of standardized tests
- Super-selective institutions like the tests, even though they know it doesn’t predict much of anything academic, because: a) high numbers equate with “smart” and equate with “high quality” and b) they don’t need to, nor do they want to, take any risk on students, and c) they one thing they do measure really well–wealth–is important to many of them colleges. It also gives them a convenient excuse to enroll fewer poor students.
But as I sat at my desk watching the webinar preview for representatives of college and university admissions offices, several things struck me as interesting:
- The implicit acknowledgement that test-prep works, and that it favors the wealthy
- The tacit admission that the SAT is not the great predictor of value colleges have been led to believe it is
- The opening remarks about transparency, coupled with the immediate request that I not Tweet about the presentation details, seemed to be at odds with one another. (It’s normal to tell people information will be embargoed before they accept an invitation to hear or read it.)
And especially, this tidbit, from a slide in the presentation, which I’m saying is Fair Use, in case any lawyers are reading this (click on it to enlarge):
This may or may not strike you as new, but at the very least it should raise some questions: Who invited the College Board into 6th Grade? And if they begin developing curricula for 6th grade, how will we know if it’s effective? A test, you say? Developed by whom? Don’t hurt your brain trying to figure out this puzzle; the answer is obvious.
Thus, there is one more way the College Board and the Catholic Church seem to be alike: Even on those times you’re tempted to believe they’re doing something for the right reason, you always have to wonder what motive lies underneath it all.
Meet The New Boss, Same as the Old Boss