Gaming the ACT and SAT


I’ve written about this topic before and it’s back in the news.  The SAT.  Remember? Depending on where you live or what schools you applied to in the U.S. you either took the ACT or the SAT.  But as it’s commonly known, to those who care to know, neither test is a very good indicator of aptitude or college success. The tests correlate better with parental income and access to test taking resources.  In some cases, as Mike Krumboltz from Yahoo News points out about a NY Times report on the subject, parents spend thousands of dollars on preparation books and tutors to help their children game the test.  One such strategy is to memorize a generic essay and tweak it to the actual essay prompt.  And some privileged white parents are probably wasting money.  I have read about an experiment where a group of upper middle class kids were given the multiple choice sections of the exam without the questions and they did very well because they implicitly understood the dominant mainstream values the test answers promoted.  As I’ve mentioned before, an increasing number of forward thinking, mostly liberal arts colleges no longer require the SAT for admission, including Connecticut College and Bard; the latter, I believe now accepts a research paper.  The College Board wants to make the SAT more relevant and less easily gamed by making the essay optional and the multiple choice questions more realistic that would require kids to support their answers with evidence.  And in an attempt level the playing field in terms of access to preparatory resources, the SAT has had discussions with Khan Academy to provide free test prep for students.

Despite these encouraging developments, I am against standardized testing.  My own experiences were anything but pleasant having taking both the ACT and the GRE back as a young lad in the 80’s. I bought the exam books, took a bunch of practice exams, learned how to take multiple choice tests – no, choosing C for every answer is not generally productive.  I memorized a bunch of words, brushed up on my math, science, history and English and made just the scores I needed and not a point more.  Believe me, I’m not a very good test taker because I stress out too much.  But I could always make reasonably intelligent comments in class and have spirited, evidence based discussions with my classmates, or at least those who came to class and were awake.  And I’ve never thought an exam captured what I knew, or how deeply I understood anything.  But there is something that could be a game changer in terms of evaluating college readiness and I’m really surprised schools haven’t tapped into this.  Games!

Candy Crush requires the kind of critical thinking skills that colleges look for in a prospect.  To be successful with Candy Crush, one needs to plan a strategy, select some boosters, and activate a social network for support, all valued skills in our modern world.  The more “competitive” colleges and universities could require a minimum Candy Crush score. In the interview, a candidate might have to demonstrate proficiency at a particular level, say 104 or something. The Candy Crush option might be best suited for the sub/urban chic who dwell in Starbuck’s after school for Iced Hazelnut Macchiatos and the Michigan Cherry Oat Bar. The alternative to Candy Crush, could be Angry birds, best suited perhaps for the nature loving birder type who also likes to hunt wild hogs for adventure.  Level 230 and up might be deemed college material.

Bird Strike

The FAA issued a passenger a warning for filming a bird strike.  I didn’t know it was illegal to film a bird strike.  Maybe it interferes with their collective bargaining rights.  These organized and angry birds, like their bovine cousins the mad cows, demand justice.  And what do they want?  For starters, protection from avian flu – they’ve picketed outside the Center for Disease Control demanding a vaccine program for all creatures with beaks and wings.  Secondly, they want a full scale investigation into the death of hundreds of birds that literally fell out of the sky in Arkansas.   Third, they want an immediate end to bird hunting and have petitioned the Game and Fisheries departments in all states to stop issuing waterfowl permits to hunters.

On the local level, the flock in my backyard has launched a campaign for better seeds.  It seems that they did not appreciate the inferior sunflower seeds I put out last spring that sprouted after the first rainstorm.  I didn’t immediately replace them and instead threw out some stale bread which apparently offended the black-capped chickadees.  To take revenge, a band of woodpeckers, I think one of them was the extinct ivory-billed, pecked my favorite beech tree to death.  And a highly coordinated crew of crows swoop down on me every time I leave the house – I am a marked man.  But I’m not the only target.  The jays, both blue and their colleagues the northern cardinal, have relentlessly terrorized my cat, with their loud tweets that I assure you contain more than 140 characters.  Furthermore, to add to the psychological torture, the whippoorwill keeps me up at night with that eerily repetitive taunt. At this point, I’m ready to cave in and buy some premium seeds and maybe even some natural spring water for the bird baths.  I hear they prefer Evian.


The thing is we’re wired, really we are.  And maybe even a little weird, at least we would have appeared that way to someone who had awakened from a coma after 30 years.  Wired used to mean wide eyed after drinking too much coffee.  Now of course it means connected, connected to devices.  In the 80’s about the only device anyone would have been connected to was the then ubiquitous Walkman.  While this made social interaction challenging  – ever try having a conversation with someone wearing headphones? – today, folks may be having a conversation via blue tooth which sometimes creates the illusion that they are talking to themselves.  Who knows, they may be.

We are seriously wired.  Blue tooth, blackberries, MP3 players, Ninetendo, iPads, iPods, iPhones, and others of the smart variety, netbooks, notebooks and Kindles.  If you observe people on the subway these days, yes, even underground, most are fiddling around with their electronic devices.  Riders don’t interact with one another anymore, not that they ever did.  No one reads a newspaper, not even the free Metro that litter the subway cars.  Folks don’t carry books anymore.  Instead people are hooked on newsfeeds and eBooks, and incessantly checking their Facebook and Twitter accounts, updating their status -“OMG, I’m on the subway and it smells like popcorn and dirty socks in here.  LOL”.  In some ways I think social media is actually anti-social.

We are wired 24 7.  It’s gotten to the point that when I come home, I no longer relax with a good book, or watch a TV show.  First, I take out my netbook, and tab it up – Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, E-mail, NYTimes.  Then I get out my HTC Evo and go to my newsfeeds.  I turn on the TV and channel surf while I go from one application to another on my netbook and smart phone.  I don’t know where I get all the energy after a long day of work, but I’m wired.  When it’s time for bed, my mind is racing and I have a hard time relaxing.  And here I am first thing in the morning, blogging.  I’m wired.  And time for another cup of Joe, as I watch MSNBC Morning Joe, and CBS, and CNN, and the Fishing Channel and play another addictive round of Angry Birds.  And I can’t stop playing till I get to the next level.

Top 6 Reasons Air Traffic Controller Unavailable

An air traffic controller at Reagan International Airport working a night shift alone was asleep when two airliners radioed in to land.  After trying unsuccessfully to reach the tower, the pilot made contact with a regional facility that also attempted to contact the controller.  A staffer from the regional facility called the pilot back to say that the Reagan tower was apparently “not manned”.  Eventually, both pilots landed safely while the air traffic controller soundly snoozed.

First, it’s interesting that the regional facility said the tower was “not manned”.  What if the controller had been a woman? He could have said the tower was neither manned nor womaned, or unmanned or unwomaned.  I am sure there are women air traffic controllers, maybe not many, but surely there are some.  In this incident, though, it’s a moot point – the controller in fact was a man, a supervisor who admitted to being asleep at the controls as it were after working his fourth overnite shift.  I suppose better to fall asleep at the controls at midnight, than asleep at the wheel of airliner, which has also happened.  Remember the flight crew that overshot their destiny because they had dozed off?

This is certainly a troubling development and speaks to bad working conditions.  There should always be at least two controllers on duty in most towers, especially one as busy as Reagan International.  Why there was only one is a mystery, and I’m not sure who to blame.  I think the unions have already jumped on this, as they should, to prevent it from happening again.  Though I have sympathy for the controller, he should be disciplined, and indeed has been.  Whether he should be fired or not, is not for me to decide. Clearly they system that allowed this man to work 4 overnight shifts in a row must be reexamined.

Now for a little fun.

Top 6 Reasons Air Traffic Controller was unavailable:

Number 6.  Watching episode of Swamp People on History.

Number 5.  Updating Twitter profile.

Number 4. Did not like the tone of the pilot’s voice.

Number 3.  Feuding with flight attendant who had previously not delivered on promise of free bag of peanuts.

Number 2. Testing new BOSE noise canceling headphones.

Number 1. Playing a game of Angry Birds on the Radar screen.

Angry Birds Got Me Writing ’bout Nothin

I’m writing about nothing, nothing at all.  But it could be something.  I could write about Radiohead or Angry Birds even.  I play that a lot to kill time.  My cat is passed out on our tax forms for the second time today.  Bedroom still a mess.  Angry Birds, I can’t get enough of the game.  Can’t stop thinking about the crazed birds from Arkansas who committed mass suicide flying into one another and buildings as if possessed.  Radiohead.  Morning Bell.  What happened to the cat?  She bit the sweeper…again.  Carpet Crawlers.  Pinot Noir.  99 words about nothing…nothing at all.