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.

Arizona Strikes Against Latinos Again

Illustration by Andre Koehne

What is with Arizona?  The state has apparently declared war on Latinos.  First, the governor signs an unconstitutional bill into law (S.B. 1070) requiring cops to essentially engage in racial profiling to ascertain a person’s legal status, a law which would disproportionally affect Latinos.  Four other states have passed similar legislation. Second, voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban affirmative action programs (Proposition 107), despite the University system’s commitment to diversity.   The state also outlawed a Latino literature course taught at a Tuscon High School because it was thought to be “brainwashing” students according to Arizona attorney general, Tom Horne in a New York Times article by Marc Lacey entitled Rift in Arizona as Latino class found illegal. Apparently Horne, who has also been involved in a movement to eliminate ethnic studies programs in the state’s universities, believes the curriculum is not sufficiently Anglo-centric and must therefore be propagandistic.  Those who have complained, object to certain texts used in this class including Paulo Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed a book Mr. Horne has clearly not read.  If he had read it, he would understand that the book is not in the least bit radical, but rather it touches on a revolutionary way of educating which focuses on making meaningful connections to the lives of students.  This contextualized approach helps one make sense of the world and develop critical thinking skills, a valued trait for senior managers of the corporate world. But if he in fact has read the book,  I imagine the Freirian approach frightens him because it might help young Latino students and anyone else taking the class develop a political consciousness, obtain educational credentials, organize, and get increasingly involved in civil rights causes, which would ultimately threaten the White power structure in the state.

Members of the elite White country club like to conquer and divide.  Were struggling Whites to get a dose of liberation education, they might join forces with Latinos and others regardless of racial or ethnic background, with whom they have more in common than they might think, to push forward a more just society.  Could this be what governor Brewer, attorney general Horne, and the Arizona state legislature fear the most?

By the way, where is Senator McCain in all this?  The “maverick” stood alongside Senator Kennedy several years ago to introduce a reasonable immigration reform bill.  Once a voice of reason, he himself has become more extreme in his views on a range of issues.  Arizona, wake up.  It’s 2011, not 1959.

Bowl Games – What’s in a Name?

What do GMAC, GM, Ford, AutoZone, Roady’s Truck Stops, Bell Helicopter, Emerald Nuts and the New Mexico Department of Tourism have in common?  emeraldIf you were thinking bailout, you’d be close, but that’s not it.  Yes, they do have some connection to the transportation industry, but that’s not it either.  The answer is football!  These companies are all sponsors of college football Bowl games.

Speaking of bailouts, aren’t we bailing out GMAC, GM and Ford?  The Detroit Free Press reported that the Federal Reserve will recognize GMAC as a holding company making it eligible for a slice of the $700 billion lifeline.  Therefore, shouldn’t the GMAC Bowl be renamed the Taxpayers Bowl of America or the TARP Bowl (Troubled Asset Relief Program)?  The GMAC Bowl payout to the teams involved is $750,000 – not much and it’s not all coming from GMAC – there are a number of minor corporate sponsors chipping in as well – but I wonder if GMAC will make good in a timely fashion on their share of the payout.  Will the bridge loan be used for the purpose?

Ford and GM are two of the three principle co-sponsors of the Motor City Bowl with a payout of $750,000.  I know this payout is small change for the Big Two, but I thought they were cash strapped, especially GM who warned they’d be out of money by year’s end unless they received a few billion or so.  Does that mean that US taxpayers will be footing the payout to the two teams playing in the Mweedeaterotor City Bowl – Florida Atlantic and Central Michigan?  I think the answer is yes.

And I want to know what happened to the Weed-Eater Bowl, also known as the Weedwhacker Bowl for its lowly status.  Well, a little research revealed that this short-lived sponsor gave way to Rubbermaid and then PetroSun and is now known once again as just the Independence Bowl.  Now that’s the way I like it. Bowls should be called by their original names, sans sponsors.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl sounds silly.  Anyway, all states are not involved,  just two generally.  The Peach Bowl is not even a Bowl anymore; it was replaced by the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, which sounds rather unappetizing, and is now simply the Chick-fil-A Bowl.  What is a Chick-fil-A anyway?  Whatever.  Go Louisiana State!

The Konica-Minolta Gator Bowl.  Good grief.  If they insist on naming rights, the company should use just one name, not two – is it Konica or Minolta?  No matter, it’s always going to be the Gator Bowl to me.  Go Nebraska!

Now I like the sound of the Brut Sun Bowl;  I do – perfect gridiron term.  But I can’t stand the smell of the stuff and sun, sweat and brut sounds like a malodorous stew – something I don’t want to be anywhere near.   On the other hand, Brut as in sparkling wine, would be much more appropriate; toasts after each score and for spraying around after the  game.

Hey, what happened to the Tangerine Bowl?  Well, it’s now the Capital One Bowl.  What’s in your wallet?  There’s no Capital One in mine, and nothing even close to the $4,250,000 payout to the two schools involved in the game – Georgia and Michigan State.  Go Michigan State!

And what happened to the Bluebonnet Bowl?  First played in Houston in 195Blue Bonnet Margarine9 the Bluebonnet Bowl was unique in that the proceeds from the game went to Houston area charities.  The Bluebonnet Bowl was last played in 1987 and discontinued due to dismal ticket sales and the inability of its board of directors to attract a corporate sponsor.   I find it hard to believe that ConAgra, the makers of Blue Bonnet margarine, never sponsored the game – I wonder if the board every approached the conglomerate.   The sponsorship would have been a win, win, because “everything’s better, with Blue Bonnet on it.”

The Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl payout of $750,000 should go to Humanitarian Aid, not to the aid of the University of Nevada or Maryland.

The University of Texas plays Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  The payout is 17 million.   UT certainly does not need the money.  According to  The College Sustainability Report Card for 2009, the University of Texas – Austin, has the 5th largest endowment in the country (15.6 billion) behind only Princeton, Stanford, Yale and Harvard.  I would like to see UT donate its share of the pot to support Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs in the state of Texas, texasprograms that include GED, Citizenship, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.  Texas spends an abysmal 6 million a year on ABE.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the payout for a football game exceeds the state’s investment in education for adults.  By contrast, neighboring Arkansas with 1/7 of the population of Texas, spends more than three times the amount on its ABE system a year – $21 million.   And Ohio State has the 30th largest endowment – $2 billion, so I recommend the University also donate it’s proceeds to its ABE system which has an annual budget of a mere $7 million.

An educated mother or father can better provide the academic support their children need.   When a parent learns English or obtains a GED, the children are direct beneficiaries!  Charter and Pilot schools, voucher programs and privatizing efforts are not the best way to combat the dropout problem in our public schools.  These experiments do little more than siphon money away from struggling schools.  Why not invest more in the education of the parents?  The return on the dollar would be off the charts.  More kids might one day have the opportunity to attend one of the schools featured  during the holiday Bowl Game season.   Cheers!

The Candidates on Education

Education has not been a major issue on the campaign trail, but the candidates’ positions should be scrutinized. I’m going to highlight the major differences between McCain and Obama on Education policy and provide links to information on all the presidential candidates’ views on No Child Left Behind (NCLB)- and yes there are more than 2 parties in this country and more than 2 presidential candidates, but unfortunately, the mainstream media largely ignores third parties like the Libertarians, the Green Party, the Independent Ralph Nader, and smaller parties that participate in the Democratic process here in the US of A.

McCain wants to significantly expand school choice, giving parents more opportunities to enroll their kids in Charter schools. He puts the blame for failing schools largely on teachers and administrators and talks about replacing them. Charter schools are not subject to the same governance rules as traditional schools but are funded publicly. At Charters, more decisions are made at the school level or locally; administrators have more authority in hiring decisions and more flexibility with regard to teacher salaries – they can pay a teacher less than the prevailing Union wage. Charters vary enormously in quality, one from another and from state to state. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of Charter schools, the fact is they do drain resources from struggling schools that need more not less support. Charters are subject to business like accountability, like other public schools under NCLB, which puts emphasis on high stakes testing, creating the conditions to require teaching to the test. For schools to succeed in a high stakes testing environment, teachers must focus on information processing, rather than critical thinking. McCain’s chief education adviser is Lisa Graham Keegan, herself a proponent of high stakes testing. In a Charter school, extracurricular activities like art, debate and theater may give way to after school test preparation sessions. Regular schools drained of resources, quickly drop music and art programs. Uniforms are standard issue, partly to promote conformity and obedience – I guess this is what’s meant by skilled workers – workers who are skilled at taking orders from those who do the thinking.

McCain’s plan would move funds out of failing schools and into Charters and I presume also into Pilot schools, fulfilling the choice part of the Excellence, Choice and Competition slogan that can be found on the McCain-Palin website. If you are comfortable with this market model of education – pitting one school against another for resources; and like the idea of schools competing for students; and if you think privatization efforts where schools receive support from businesses in exchange for input on the school curricula and access to captive student consumers, already happening throughout the country, you might like the McCain plan. McCain’s plan offers little more than 4 more years of the last 8 under Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind law- flawed and never adequately funded.

Obama also supports Charter schools and favors experimentation with whatever works. Unlike McCain, he emphasizes more support for failing schools, not punishment. He favors higher pay for teachers (and they deserve it) and tax credits to attract new teachers to teach in needy school districts. Obama proposes alternative forms of testing and assessment to counteract the negative consequences of high stakes testing. In my opinion, these standardized tests are biased and do not measure student capabilities. An increasing number of colleges have reached this same conclusion and no longer require prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores. Obama’s education adviser is Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond whose views are far more progressive than Keegan’s.

The idea of promoting alternative schools has some appeal but not at the expense of struggling schools, schools that badly need increased resources, not severe penalties. In fact, public education needs increased funding at all levels – from Pre-K to Adult Basic Education (ABE).

Candidates Views on No Child Left Behind

And speaking of adults, none of the candidates have said much about the importance or even the existence of Adult Basic Education (ABE). These are publicly funded programs that provide Literacy, GED, English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and transitions to college education for millions of adults. While the candidates talk about the importance of parental involvement in the education of a child, they fail to understand that an adult left behind cannot provide the kind of academic support the child needs to have the best chance of success in school.

Let’s put people first and leave no child and no adult behind!