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2020 May 29

Misleading by UC’s President

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:46
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It is clear in Janet Napolitano’s latest e-mail to the faculty that she is first and foremost a politician and not an academic leader.  It is a good thing that she is retiring, though I have no faith that the recruitment process for her successor will find anyone better.  In her email, she says:

Changing the standardized testing requirement for undergraduates

Earlier this month, the UC Board of Regents unanimously approved my recommendation that UC suspend the standardized test requirement (ACT/SAT) for all California freshman applicants until fall 2024.

This is the culmination of an intense, two-year, research-based effort to evaluate the value and use of standardized tests in admissions, beginning in 2018 when I asked the Academic Senate to evaluate the issue. I am grateful for the dedicated and diligent efforts of the members of the Standardized Testing Task Force, and all involved in this effort.

What she doesn’t say is that her recommendation was the exact opposite  of what the task force recommended.  She completely ignored the “research-based effort” and went with her gut.  One would almost think she was a Republican.

The task force studied the data carefully and found that the way the SAT was being used for UC admissions resulted in it being a useful predictor of retention and college completion, that it was more predictive for under-represented minorities, and that it helped under-represented minorities gain admission.  Essentially all the arguments against using the SAT turned out not to be supported by the data. (Disclaimer: I’ve only read summaries of the report, not the report itself, so I may have gotten a distorted view of it.)

But Janet Napolitano ignored the task force report and went for a purely political gesture—one that makes the UC admissions process more opaque and more subject to manipulation by admissions officers to admit students based on their prejudices and whims.  If the elimination of the SAT is not rescinded by the next UC president, we are likely to see even more selection for white students than currently, as most of the alternatives to the SAT (like extracurricular activities and essay evaluation) are even more correlated with socio-economic status than the SAT is.

2014 March 6

Guessing correction is not guessing penalty

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 06:19
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It bothers me that even the New York Times, in an otherwise excellent article repeats a common misperception:

Students were docked one-quarter point for every multiple-choice question they got wrong, requiring a time-consuming risk analysis to determine which questions to answer and which to leave blank.

via The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul –

The guessing correction on the SAT meant that you did not have to do any “time-consuming risk analysis”—if you knew nothing about a question, it did not matter whether you guessed or left the question blank—your expected value was zero either way.

Under the no-guessing-correction system, students are forced to guess, or give up 1/5th of a point for each question left blank. Thus the new system rewards gamblers and punishes people who are cautious—rewarding a character trait that should have no influence on test scores.

Under the old system, you could guess randomly on everything you didn’t know if you wanted to—it wouldn’t hurt on average.  Under the new system, you are forced to.  Forced guessing will also penalize those who aren’t aware of time running out, and are forced to “put down their pencils” before getting a chance to randomly bubble the remaining questions. It will also penalize students who would formerly skip difficult questions, then come back to the blank ones later if they had time—leaving a question blank will come with a penalty that wasn’t there before.

I suppose it is too much for me to expected innumerate reporters (even for the NY Times) to know enough probability to understand expected values, but it saddens me that the College Board, in search of higher market share, is giving up on one of the things that they previously were doing correctly.

2014 March 5

SAT is changing in 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:41
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The big news today is that the College Board has announced a major overhaul of the SAT, to be effective in 2016:

The major changes seem to be these:

  • Eliminating difficult vocabulary in favor of common words like “synthesis”. This is intended to reduce the benefit of vocabulary study, but is likely to reduce the benefit of having read extensively (which is the main source for a large vocabulary).
  • Adding a penalty for leaving any questions unanswered.  They phrase this as “eliminating the guessing penalty”, but there was no penalty for guessing—the expected value of a guess was 0, the same as leaving a question unanswered. Now guessing will have a positive expected value, so leaving a question unanswered is effectively penalized.
  • Merging the critical reading and writing multiple-guess questions, so that there is one score for both reading and writing. This makes some sense, as the current split between the two seems completely arbitrary.
  • Making the essay optional, so that there will be a return to a 1600-point scale with a separate score for those who choose to do the essay.  Since the essay bore little resemblance to writing in college, was graded randomly (or worse), and encouraged teaching the awful 5-paragraph essay, eliminating the essay is probably a very good move. The new optional essay will be twice as long, which may make it have some minor predictive value, unlike the current essay. I suspect that 90% of colleges will not request the essay, as it has had essentially no predictive value.
  • Alignment to the Common Core, which is of dubious utility for predicting college success, given that the Common Core is primarily designed for non-college-bound students.
  • Allowing the SAT to be taken on computers. I wonder how they are going to arrange the proctoring to make sure that no computer-based cheating occurs.

Although the College Board says that this overhaul is not prompted by their shrinking market share (ACT now sells more tests than SAT), I’m sure that is the primary driving factor.  If the College Board behaved more like a non-profit than like a corporate monopoly (smaller executive salaries, pricing for distributing scores to college that was close to actual costs rather than the price gouging that they currently engage it), I’d be more inclined to believe that this was not just a “market share” phenomenon.  Since all the changes make them look more like the ACT, it seems to be entirely profit-driven, not based on a desire to more accurately predict the success of college applicants.

Eliminating the essay should make the SAT much cheaper to grade, but I’ve not heard any announcements about them reducing the price of the exams.



2013 September 7

Meeting UC a–g requirements

Filed under: home school,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:23
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Back in March, I wrote a post Admission by exam at UC, in which I listed how my son was meeting UC a–g requirements, which I had originally talked about a couple of years ago,  when we started home schooling. This post updates that information:

  1. 1 year World History, 1 year US history  (world history at home in 10th grade, US history at AFE in 11th)
  2. 4 years English (9th grade English didn’t happen, so we had to overload in 10th and 11th grade)
  3. 3 years Math (Art of Problem Solving Precalculus, Calculus, and Group Theory (Group Theory was canceled—not enough signed up); Mathematical Problem Solving at UCSC, Applied Discrete Math at UCSC)
  4. 2–3 years science (Physiology in 9th, calculus-based physics in 10th and 11th, chemistry in 12th)
  5. 2 years foreign language (Spanish, through Spanish 3 at Cabrillo College, possibly through Spanish 4 next year)
  6. 1 year visual and performing arts (9th grade drama class, continuing theater classes at WEST performing arts)
  7. 1 year elective (various computer science and robotics projects, including the Art of Problem Solving Java course)

I managed to talk him into doing the SAT 2 tests in US and World History, which means that he can now validate all the UC a–g requirements by standard exams.  He does not expect to do any more SAT tests, though he’ll probably do the AP Chem test at the end of his current AP chem class, just to validate that the level of the course was real.

The history requirements (requirement a) are validated by SAT 2 scores, English (requirement b) is validated by his SAT score on the reading section, math (requirement c) is validated by his SAT 2 and AP Calculus BC scores, the science (requirement d) is validated by his AP Physics C scores and the UC-approved physiology course (and probably by the AP chem as well), the foreign language (requirement e) by his community college Spanish courses, the arts (requirement f) by his high school drama course, and the elective (requirement g) by the AP Comp Sci exam, the math courses at UCSC, or his video editing course in 9th grade.

Of course, he could also qualify for Admission by exam, based on his SAT scores and 2 SAT 2 scores, even if we used his 2 lowest SAT 2 scores, rather than his 2 highest, so it doesn’t really matter whether he has completed the a–g requirements.  But the a–g requirements to represent a fairly typical college-prep curriculum, so it is good that we can show that he’s covered all the standard courses—even the material that did not thrill him—for colleges other than UC, who may not have the admission-by-exam work-around.

2013 May 31

Cramming for the SAT2

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 01:48
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My son does not usually do test prep before taking a standardized test, nor does he usually cram for exams in classes.  As a general rule, our educational philosophy is to learn the material as one goes along, and let the tests reflect what was retained.  For previous exams (SAT, SAT2 Math Level 2, AP Physics C, AP Calculus AB, AP Computer Science, …), the amount of prep has usually consisted of going through one practice exam and looking to see if there is anything on that test he has forgotten or never learned.  If so, he did a little reading and maybe an exercise or two to cover the hole.

The one exception in the past has been the SAT writing section. Because of his problems with writer’s block, we did have his writing therapist work with him on timed essays similar to the SAT essays.  He believes that this did help him on the SAT, as he did not shut down for the essay as he might otherwise have done.

This weekend he plans to take 3 SAT2 exams: Physics, World History, and US History.  The Physics SAT2 is mainly for college entrance, as many admissions departments require at least 2 SAT2 tests, and pay no attention to the AP exams that test the same subjects deeper. The SAT2 tests in history are to satisfy the University of California a–g requirements, since the ways he learned (a course at home for World History and an unaccredited school course for US History) do not have the UC seal of approval.  If he gets at least a 540 in World History and a 550 in US History, he’ll satisfy UC that he has completed the “a” requirement in Social Sciences/History.  With what he has already done (in terms of tests and courses), this will complete his a–g requirements.  The SAT2 tests this weekend will also provide him with an alternative way to meet the UC entrance requirements: admission by exam, which he will meet if he gets a 580 or better on any of the 3 SAT2 tests—something he should be able to do very easily in physics.

He followed his usually practice for the physics test (looking over a practice test), found a couple of topics that we had not covered yet, and read the textbook or Wikipedia on those subjects.  For World History and US History, topics he has learned a little but not really cared much about, he is cramming—by reading (or re-rereading) Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the United States, Cartoon History of the Universe II, and Cartoon History of the Universe III.  Together with what he remembers from his courses, those should be enough to get him in the 600s or 700s—probably not an 800, but he doesn’t need that for the history SATs.

The SAT and AP tests are somewhat expensive—though much less so than most of the courses we’ve been paying for, adding only about 5% to the cost of his education.  Although some people justify the AP costs by the college tuition one can avoid with AP credit, most of the schools where my son would fit in give little or no credit for AP—they expect everyone to have had courses at that level and still need 4 years to complete the program at the college.  We’ve been justifying the expense of the courses as external validation for our home schooling, not as tuition avoidance.

On one of the home-school e-mail lists I’ve been on, the standardized tests have been characterized as “hoop jumping”: doing meaningless tasks simply to amuse those with the power to compel obedience.  While I feel that way to some extent about the Common Application and FAFSA paperwork (which I am dreading), I don’t have the same reaction to the standardized testing. The tests have a clear correspondence with what the colleges need to know about students when choosing whom to admit, and so are not meaningless tasks.  For home schoolers, they provide an external validation for the content and level of the courses that students have taken that is not otherwise available. They also represent one of the lowest stress ways to validate the courses—certainly much less effort than putting together a portfolio or taking a busywork-heavy accredited course.  Note: kids with test anxiety may not find our approach to be low stress—home schoolers have to match their educational strategies to the kids involved.

We have found that the UC a–g requirements and the California high school graduation requirements do involve a certain amount of arbitrariness—curricular choices that we would have made somewhat differently if we had had free rein.  For example, we would probably have reduced the English and social science requirements, replacing them with more science, math, computer science, robotics, engineering, linguistics, theater, technical writing, and foreign language.  Instead we sacrificed some of the useful stuff (foreign language, linguistics, engineering, and technical writing) in order to meet the letter of the requirements.  Even the physics course this year suffered from the lack of time imposed by trying to meet the high school unit requirements for English and history.  Next year will again waste a lot of time on not-very enjoyable English and social studies, just to meet the bureaucratic high school graduation requirements—time that would be better spent reading, writing, and studying university-level subjects.


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