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Going SAT Free
November 5, 2010 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Some colleges have decided to take SAT scores out of the admissions decision making process. But, some are alleging that this is only a way to game the rankings by excluding the scores of admitted students who didn't do well.
posted by reenum (105 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
“When Smith, a highly respected school, told me they didn’t care about my SAT scores, I thought, why should I?” she says. “I will always be more than a test score, and any school that supports me in that is the school for me.”

Would you say that if it weren't a "highly-respected school"?

I doubt it.
posted by blucevalo at 8:29 AM on November 5, 2010


At her prep school in Kents Hill, Maine, Meg Richardson served as captain of the field-hockey team and president of the school’s Amnesty International chapter. She took five AP classes, never missed honor roll, and interned for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe throughout her senior year. She managed all this while maintaining a 3.7 GPA.

Worth noting: Her high school costs $44,500 a year to attend.

I don't like making snap judgments, but I'm going to say that Kents Hill probably practices grade inflation, and has some pretty good connections in the college admissions world.

Hypothetically, standardized tests (especially "general aptitude" tests like the SAT) are supposed to at least partially weed out rich kids who have ample resources to pad their resumes. They still have an advantage, but it's not one that can be overtly "cheated" by anybody with enough money, which suspiciously seems like the case here.

I'm sure Meg Richardson is a wonderful and intelligent young woman. However, I'm not going to shed a tear because she went to Smith instead of Harvard.
posted by schmod at 8:30 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


schmod: "Hypothetically, standardized tests (especially "general aptitude" tests like the SAT) are supposed to at least partially weed out rich kids who have ample resources to pad their resumes. They still have an advantage, but it's not one that can be overtly "cheated" by anybody with enough money, which suspiciously seems like the case here. "

This. The more and more we shift admissions away from objective measures and towards the interestingness of admissions essays and the number of extracurricular activities, the more we shift towards a process that disproportionately helps people who have all the money in the world to spend on those things.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:41 AM on November 5, 2010 [25 favorites]


I would never have gotten into college without the SATs. My 2.5 GPA high school transcript wasn't exactly going to wow an admissions board.
posted by octothorpe at 8:41 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


1850 out of 2400

Man I have no idea what SAT scores mean now that they've added the essay portion. Does anyone get a perfect 2400? What's considered good now?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:42 AM on November 5, 2010


Dude, my college has been doing this since before it was the cool thing to do. I didn't submit my SATs when applying to schools in Fall of 1999.
posted by zizzle at 8:44 AM on November 5, 2010


Man I have no idea what SAT scores mean now that they've added the essay portion. Does anyone get a perfect 2400? What's considered good now?

Yes. And what was good in 1998? 1989? For a black kid? For a poor kid?
posted by arveale at 8:45 AM on November 5, 2010


It's worth pointing out, though, that one of the reasons a particular high school may have good connections with college admission boards is that students from that school tend to prosper at a given college.
posted by Mister_A at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010


Worth noting: Her high school costs $44,500 a year to attend.

That's the boarding tuition. The day tuition is $24,500. Of course you have to toss in books, course fees, and required supplies of $800-$1,000 (unclear if that's per trimester or per year), a day student transportation of $1,100 per trimester (that doesn't make a lot of sense; are you not allowed to arrange for your own transportation to the school?).

For comparison, Smith College costs $38,640 in tuition and $13,000 for room & board. Given that she's attending that high school, somehow I think her family will be able to afford Smith.

The more and more we shift admissions away from objective measures and towards the interestingness of admissions essays and the number of extracurricular activities, the more we shift towards a process that disproportionately helps people who have all the money in the world to spend on those things.

Do any schools award academic scholarships with a preference for students with low incomes? When I was a student, not that long ago I like to think, academic scholarships were need-blind as far as I could tell, which seems dumb in retrospect.
posted by jedicus at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010


Anything that takes ETS down a notch gets a thumbs-up from me.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Asians as a group ace the SATs. No-SAT admissions is a cover for "fewer Asians".
posted by Faze at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's not like having money helps with preparing you for the SATs, right?

It's not like there's an entire cottage industry of test prep helping well-off kids become familiar with and practice the specialized skills necessary for an exam like the SAT.
posted by polexa at 8:48 AM on November 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


The more and more we shift admissions away from objective measures and towards the interestingness of admissions essays and the number of extracurricular activities, the more we shift towards a process that disproportionately helps people who have all the money in the world to spend on those things.

Height is an "objective measure" as well -- that doesn't make it predictive of college success. Critics assert that the SAT as a poor predictor of college success that is also systematically biased against minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged (who may lack context for the questions and, more importantly, cannot afford expensive private test prep courses). High school GPA, on the other hand (which is also "objective", at least in the sense that it is a number) is thought to be a much better predictor, and these schools believe it makes a better first admissions sieve. I haven't read anything to suggest that eliminating the SAT lowers socioeconomic diversity.
posted by The Bellman at 8:49 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really think this is a good idea. It takes out one of the few objective metrics the admissions process includes, leaving very little left that isn't subject to inflation and spin.

With grade inflation the way it is, it's impossible to know whether someone's 3.7 GPA is great or a disaster waiting to happen. GPA is also highly vulnerable to someone taking nothing but fluff classes.

Extracurriculars are subject to local variation and spin. It's hard to know if being the captain of a sports team means you are at or nearly at college level, or is nearly meaningless (on my team, all seniors were captains.) It's anyone's guess if the Amnesty International Chapter is highly active or has five members and meets twice a year. You just don't know.

I'm not usually a fan of standardized tests, but those existed for a reason. I can't help but think that if you don't score at least halfway decently on them you'll have a hard time with any kind of rigorous curriculum.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:51 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man I have no idea what SAT scores mean now that they've added the essay portion. Does anyone get a perfect 2400? What's considered good now?

They just stuck on the Writing SAT II (which is worth 800 points) as a third section.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on November 5, 2010


So much to be said on this issue. But to begin and to be brief: many schools do not require SAT but instead ask for ACT. Some, many, give students a choice of which to submit. One school in NY requires ONLY essays written in high school.
On QPR: Some time ago, Texas gave students above a certain point average automatic admission to its colleges. Many parents noted that their kids came close but not at minimum (which was high),so they moved their kids to schools not so competitive and then their kids got the scores that got them into Texas colleges. What happened then was that good students began to go to not so good schools for the grades; mediocre students filled up the better, tougher schools!

You can not simply take a QPR from ANY school and believe it is as good as QPR from competitive high school.
a pet peeve: Take the number of students applying at elite colleges, then take the number of acceptances from those schools, then multiply it by the cost of applying! (the stats are given in all of the fat books sold that deal with college admissions). thus schools like Harvard make over 3 million bucks per year for simply telling kids they are NOT accepted. Pure profit! Each year.
posted by Postroad at 8:54 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man I have no idea what SAT scores mean now that they've added the essay portion. Does anyone get a perfect 2400? What's considered good now?

The Wikipedia page has conversion charts. An 1850 today corresponds to somewhere in the 12-1300 range on the old scale. Around the top 15% of students. So good, but not spectacular.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:54 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was a bright kid who had a terrible family life in high school that ate into my extracurriculars and GPA somewhat- alcoholic father, parents divorced and remarried, blah blah it's a long story. Point is, I was one of those kids that did very well on tests, including the SATS, and APs and essays and things like that, but because of a crappy day-to-day life, arguments over money, and whatever else, was constantly tired in class and struggled to be "an achiever" Going to college and getting away from my parents was the best thing that ever happened to me. I hate to think of other kids like I was, who could do well if given the chance, but who will be denied if college apps become an extracurricular game. Also, grade inflation was rampant at certain high schools in my hometown and not at others, so that's another hitch.
posted by Nixy at 8:55 AM on November 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


Thanks, mr_roboto.

no i will not say it
posted by shakespeherian at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Worth noting: Her high school costs $44,500 a year to attend.

I don't like making snap judgments, but I'm going to say that Kents Hill probably practices grade inflation, and has some pretty good connections in the college admissions world.

I went to an expensive prep school, on both need and merit based scholarships, where I worked my ass off for a top knotch education and at various extra-curricular activities, roomed with a black guy and two asian guys, and earned my acceptance and scholarships to a liberal arts college.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:04 AM on November 5, 2010


It's not like there's an entire cottage industry of test prep helping well-off kids become familiar with and practice the specialized skills necessary for an exam like the SAT.

It's well beyond 'cottage.' Test prep is a $4 billion industry in the US.
posted by jedicus at 9:05 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Want to get your kid into a good college? Start early and convince the child to take up oboe rather than guitar....by the time he or she applies, there will be many slots at good school in search of oboe players and your kid will be given a very good chance of getting in. That sort of thing goes on, so assume your child is not a very good football player etc and dig up other "needed" activities.

Now here is the lowdown on admissions/application inflation that is currently going on throughout the land
http://chronicle.com/article/Application-Inflation/125277/
posted by Postroad at 9:06 AM on November 5, 2010


The 1430 I scored on my 1983 SAT was the high water mark of my academic career*, so I'm a bit sad to hear this - regardless of whether it's a Good or Bad Thing.

* It was not a predictor of college success.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:07 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


While it's true that wealthy kids can sign up for an SAT prep class, what they get out of that class is more or less proportionate to the effort they put into the class. So it's not so simple an equation as enroll in prep class, watch score go up. Some students are lazy, or simply dumb, and their scores don't improve. Also, though $30 may be financially prohibitive to some students, there are many decent books out there that will help students prep for the test. Students who study for the SAT, in whatever capacity, are typically rewarded with higher scores. Students who study hard are rewarded with even higher scores. That's why, even though I recognize the bias in the test, I support the inclusion of SAT results in the admissions process - schools are telling you ahead of time that the test is important and that you should attempt, in whatever capacity you are able, to get a good score. As an admissions counselor, I would look favorably at students who have taken that to heart and have shown that they are able to score better than other students who are taking the same test.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:08 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ooh is this where we all post our SAT scores?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:10 AM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


polexa: "It's not like there's an entire cottage industry of test prep helping well-off kids become familiar with and practice the specialized skills necessary for an exam like the SAT."

Sure there is. And there shouldn't be. Still, the difference in degree is staggering. You can get a 2400 on the SAT without ever taking a class (or, at best, buying a $35 test prep book). Community centers and schools often run free or reduced price test prep classes.

Being part of a valuable extracurricular activity? That's where you start talking about thousands of dollars. As a national-travel debater in high school, those thousands of dollars were paid twice for me: once by my parents, once by my high school. It's extracurriculars that rely on two privileges: my parents have the money to pay for the activity (or, even more precisely, I have time to do the activity and not work) and I come from the kind of high school that can afford to put up the activity in the first place.

In the above paragraph, feel free to substitute "interesting thing to write about in admissions essay" for "extracurricular activity" (ever notice how most of the examples for good admissions essay are about going to Europe or South America? I sure have).
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:10 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


High school GPA, on the other hand (which is also "objective", at least in the sense that it is a number) is thought to be a much better predictor, and these schools believe it makes a better first admissions sieve.

Ah, see, but GPA can be gamed in so many ways: which school you attend, which classes you take, who teaches those classes, how charismatic you are as a student (e.g. how convincingly you can beg for extra credit, extensions, etc). Tests are better controlled, though still imperfect (witness the abuse of doctor's notes to be able to take tests untimed).

Since GPAs are so dependent on the particulars of the school in question, many colleges have internal metrics that attempt to normalize GPAs from different schools in order to make them comparable. The intent is good, but it suffers from three massive flaws:

1. It's internal and secret. Colleges won't tell schools what they think of their grading. The lack of feedback means a school might continue policies that hurt students. It also means students may waste time applying to colleges that will heavily discount their GPA.

2. It's necessarily subjective. Someone has to judge how 'hard' a school is and how comparatively bright or hard working the students are.

3. It disproportionately helps students at schools that tend to send a lot of graduates to college. A given college isn't going to devise a GPA comparison metric for a school that has never sent a single applicant to the college, much less seen a single graduate be admitted.

If schools and colleges want to use a number based on high school grade performance, they need to use class percentile instead of GPA. That's much more immediately comparable across schools.
posted by jedicus at 9:17 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Asians as a group ace the SATs. No-SAT admissions is a cover for "fewer Asians".

Funny, I think it'd be Argumentation 101 to strenuously avoid making invidious assertions beginning with the proposition "X as a group do Y," especially when the category that X embodies is a racial or ethnic one, but I guess I was wrong.
posted by blucevalo at 9:17 AM on November 5, 2010


my parents have the money to pay for the activity (or, even more precisely, I have time to do the activity and not work)

Work is an extracurricular activity.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:19 AM on November 5, 2010


Because performance on the SAT totally measures how well you'll fair in college...
posted by hillabeans at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2010


Funny, I think it'd be Argumentation 101 to strenuously avoid making invidious assertions beginning with the proposition "X as a group do Y," especially when the category that X embodies is a racial or ethnic one, but I guess I was wrong.

It's Faze. He's a troll. Just walk away.

And Faze, resorting to a racism troll? That's below your competence. You can do better than that, I know. Something knocking liberal arts schools for destroying the objectiveness competency measures of old, enabling a legion of narcissistic people with English degrees who believe they deserve something more than a job at McD's. Aim higher.
posted by zabuni at 9:25 AM on November 5, 2010


The idea that more interesting people get preference in college admissions always annoyed me. Also the seemingly uncritical acceptance of extra-curriculars in general. Seems like reverse affirmative action to me.
posted by bluejayk at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Work is an extracurricular activity.

Do admissions officers accord working 20 hours a week at a dead end, minimum wage job that you took because it's the only thing available in your neighborhood the same weight as being in the band and choir, on the debate team, and president of your school's chapter of Amnesty International?

Somehow I doubt it. Many people suffer from unconscious bias, and unless the admissions team has an explicit affirmative action policy for people who work while in school, I think the worker will be discriminated against, even if only unconsciously.

But I guess we don't have to wonder. There are current and former admissions officers here. How are students with jobs handled? Is there a policy or traditional way of handling it at your school?
posted by jedicus at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am more than just a number!

I am a degree with a GPA from a certain institution!
posted by srboisvert at 9:33 AM on November 5, 2010


I am a high school tutor. Or more correctly, I was a high school tutor until the end of last year. Before last year, I mostly worked with middle to low income kids for about $10/hour. (I would have been free, but the few times I tried that neither the kids nor the parents took it seriously. They felt free not to show up, to show up unprepared or leave early. Charging a little money stopped that sort of thing.)

Two years ago, I started tutoring a kid who went to a very expensive private school with "Prep" in the name. They have a good reputation and send lots of their kids to great colleges. I was hired to help this kid pass geometry. When I got there at the end of November, after this kid had been in geometry for nearly an entire semester, they had not yet covered right triangles. Truthfully, I can't quite begin to tell you what they had done up until that point other than supplementary and complimentary angles. And this kid was struggling through class. Through some hard work, we turned around her C- into an A. Yay!

The next year (last year), I went back to help her with test prep. I'd been enormously successful in the past with kids blowing their previous scores out of the water with a little encouragement and study. Five or so sessions and they were scoring high enough to get into mid-ranked colleges. I had no reason to suspect that this would be any different. What I found out was that this would be completely different. My student was so used to having her hand held by teachers through tests that she literally could not improve on the SAT or ACT. If I was there administering the test reminding her to slow down, giving her encouragement about how to solve a problem (e.g. "underline the important words in the question!"), she did fine. As soon as I stopped doing those things, her score plummeted. There was no amount of work we could do together to get her to supply those internal checks that were necessary to do well on the SAT. She just couldn't learn to be self-motivated enough to get through it on her own. We worked at it for six months, and her score improved by 1 point on the ACT (the test she ultimately took). In the math section, she was consistently unable to reproduce the geometry we'd so painstakingly worked out only three months before.

She had a 3.9 GPA, played soccer, volleyball and softball. If you take her test scores out of the equation, she seems like a great candidate for college. She seems like she should succeed. In truth, I really worry about her going to college. She's not ready, her high school has left her completely unprepared because of grade inflation. The teachers may think that they're helping the kids succeed by using the tests as teaching tools and extended lectures, but the truth is, their helping hand is preventing the kids from understanding how hard they really need to work and what they don't truthfully know.

I was so disappointed and disillusioned by the whole experience that I don't tutor anymore. She's going off to a great college in the fall with tons of academic scholarships. The low and middle income kids I tutored all ended up at the state school, paying tuition. They were all far and away brighter and more motivated kids. It's all about money.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [14 favorites]


I don't like making snap judgments, but I'm going to say that Kents Hill probably practices grade inflation, and has some pretty good connections in the college admissions world.

I went to a (different) prep school. They did not practice grade inflation.
posted by Jahaza at 9:50 AM on November 5, 2010


Worth noting: Her high school costs $44,500 a year to attend.

I don't like making snap judgments, but I'm going to say that Kents Hill probably practices grade inflation, and has some pretty good connections in the college admissions world.

Given that she's attending that high school, somehow I think her family will be able to afford Smith.

Do admissions officers accord working 20 hours a week at a dead end, minimum wage job that you took because it's the only thing available in your neighborhood the same weight as being in the band and choir, on the debate team, and president of your school's chapter of Amnesty International?


A student is apparently either a deserving, underpriviledged kid that's not getting a fair shake from the snobby elitists or they are some papered rich (white) kid at a prep school that's had everything handed to her? There are a lot of kids out there that earn their spots in college by the sweat of their (and often their parents') brows, through honest hard work. Why is it OK to assume that prep school kids are wealthy, white, indulged, and privy to special treatment?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:56 AM on November 5, 2010


I agree that Faze is a troll that has made a trollish comment.

But he's not far off the mark. There is considerable history in the Ivy League and University of California system of implementing policies that have the effect of severely capping or reducing the Asian American student population.

"After Bakke, racial preferences in college admissions left the headlines for a few years. But by the late 1980s, admissions policies at the University of California again came under fire, this time for allegedly discriminating against Asians. In November of 1988, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights announced it was investigating admissions procedures at UC Berkeley and UCLA after receiving complaints that the schools were capping admissions of Asian students.

The complaints centered on statistics that showed a sharp drop in the percentage of Asian applicants throughout the decade, even though a higher percentage of these applicants met UC's admissions standards than those from other racial groups. Critics blamed the drop on the school's subjective admissions policies, which they said placed too much weight on extracurricular activities. The government also announced plans to investigate similar claims at Harvard.

In April of 1989, UC Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman publicly apologized for the drop in Asian admissions at the school. Though he denied that policies had been put in place to deliberately restrict Asians, he vowed to make changes to correct the error. In May, the University announced changes to admissions standards that placed more emphasis on academic achievement, and agreed to make its admissions process public for the first time."

-------------------------

"They point to a UC projection that said the new standards would sharply reduce Asian-American admissions while resulting in little change for blacks and Hispanics, and a big gain for white students."

------------------------

"A recent study of the applicants to seven elite colleges in 1997 found that Asian students were much more likely to be rejected than seemingly similar students of other races. Also, athletes and students from top high schools had admissions edges, as did low-income African-Americans and Hispanics.

Translating the advantages into SAT scores, study author Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist, calculated that African-Americans who achieved 1150 scores on the two original SAT tests had the same chances of getting accepted to top private colleges in 1997 as whites who scored 1460s and Asians who scored perfect 1600s."

---------------------------------------

"SAT SCORES aren’t everything. But they can tell some fascinating stories.

Take 1,623, for instance. That’s the average score of Asian-Americans, a group that Daniel Golden - editor at large of Bloomberg News and author of “The Price of Admission’’ - has labeled “The New Jews.’’ After all, much like Jews a century ago, Asian-Americans tend to earn good grades and high scores. And now they too face serious discrimination in the college admissions process.

Notably, 1,623 - out of a possible 2,400 - not only separates Asians from other minorities (Hispanics and blacks average 1,364 and 1,276 on the SAT, respectively). The score also puts them ahead of Caucasians, who average 1,581. And the consequences of this are stark.

Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who reviewed data from 10 elite colleges, writes in “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal’’ that Asian applicants typically need an extra 140 points to compete with white students. In fact, according to Princeton lecturer Russell Nieli, there may be an “Asian ceiling’’ at Princeton, a number above which the admissions office refuses to venture."

-------------------------------

"As admissions strategists, our experience is that Asian Americans must meet higher objective standards, such as SAT scores and GPAs, and higher subjective standards than the rest of the applicant pool," he said. "Our students need to do a lot more in order to stand out."

-------------------------------


As for anecdotal data, I remember in the late 90's, amongst middle class Asian American parents in Southern California (arguably the gossipy-est population on earth regarding their children and college), it was a bigger deal for a son or daughter to make Princeton than Harvard. It was understood that Princeton was much harder to get into than any other school in the US. I knew of people who received major scholarships to Caltech, MIT, and Yale but were denied admission to Princeton. Although I can't seem to find any links to this, I recall that Princeton undergrad had only about a 9% Asian American population, while Harvard undergrad had about a 20% Asian American population.

Full disclosure: I am an Asian American that went to college, and still a rabid supporter of affirmative action based on race.
posted by shen1138 at 10:00 AM on November 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


Why is it OK to assume that prep school kids are wealthy, white, indulged, and privy to special treatment?

It's mostly true. And if you graduated from your Prep school more than about 5 years ago, you might not be a great witness to what it's actually like inside those schools right now. Things have been changing, and they've been changing quickly. Being able to pay for Prep school, even with the help of scholarships, belies a certain privilege. Trying to assert that it doesn't is dishonest.

And college admissions offices most certainly *do* give special treatment to applicants from private schools. So, yeah. Prep school students are privy to special treatment. It rather comes with the territory.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:03 AM on November 5, 2010


A student is apparently either a deserving, underprivileged kid that's not getting a fair shake from the snobby elitists or they are some papered rich (white) kid at a prep school that's had everything handed to her?

The comparison is designed show the effects of the a policy at the margin. The great muddle of kids near the average will not be affected much one way or another.

Why is it OK to assume that prep school kids are wealthy, white, indulged, and privy to special treatment?

Wealthy: "Approximately 40% of students at Kents Hill School receive some form of financial help in attending Kents Hill." That means a majority receive no financial help to attend a school that costs at least $24,500, and that's if you live in the area. That's wealthy by any reasonable measure.

Indulged and privy to special treatment: You take a look at the academic program at Kents Hill and tell me if that doesn't amount to indulgence and special treatment compared to the average American high school, even the average private one. Kents Hill sits on a 400 acre campus. That's pretty dang indulgent. Look at the description of weekend activities.

As for race, I don't know. The school doesn't publish any statistics about its racial makeup that I can find. But given the association of wealth and race in the US, I'm going to guess Kents Hill is not a portrait of America.
posted by jedicus at 10:05 AM on November 5, 2010


has some pretty good connections in the college admissions world.

I honestly had no idea about this until I read a book about admissions at Wesleyan. The guidance counselors at good prep schools are expected to be able to pick up the phone and talk to their friends in the admissions office at top schools. And certain prep schools are tied to certain private colleges for this reason.
posted by smackfu at 10:07 AM on November 5, 2010


I agree that Faze is a troll that has made a trollish comment.

But he's not far off the mark.


I rarely stoop to defend myself against silly troll accusations. But this is just silly. Shen 1138 smears me, smears my remark -- then (in the very next sentence) admits that he or she agrees with it, and proceeds to post link after link supporting it.

As I said, the no-SAT trend is probably more about race than anything else. This is not a trollish statement. It is an observation that is well supported by the evidence (thank you Shen1138). Now, go about your discussion ...
posted by Faze at 10:16 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I don't get is how Canada, the UK, Germany, France, India, etc, etc all manage to pump out equally qualified university graduates - well, actually in some fields they churn out better qualified university graduates - without the mythical SAT.

While the SAT-optional schools are doing it out of self-interest and not any truly higher ideals, it's just a lazy way to rank students.

Now, writing the Euclid, that's a test.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


As I said, the no-SAT trend is probably more about race than anything else.

The question is whether affecting races unequally is an intentional effect or an unintentional side-effect.
posted by smackfu at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2010


Funny, I think it'd be Argumentation 101 to strenuously avoid making invidious assertions beginning with the proposition "X as a group do Y," especially when the category that X embodies is a racial or ethnic one, but I guess I was wrong.

Discussing this subject without talking about race is ridiculous. SAT scores are very correlated with race and removing them from the process is an effective way to reduce Asian (and Jewish) admissions without being so obvious as to requiring Asian candidates to have higher SAT scores (which they do too, but indirectly.) Universities of course have a history of artificially limiting their Asian (and Jewish) admissions via a variety of methods, including explicit quotas.

I support affirmative action, but the dishonest way people talk about it is infuriating.
posted by callmejay at 10:24 AM on November 5, 2010


And college admissions offices most certainly *do* give special treatment to applicants from private schools. So, yeah. Prep school students are privy to special treatment. It rather comes with the territory.

Yep. Back when I was applying to schools, one particular alumni interviewer had the gall to open the interview by asking me why I didn't go to a private school like her children did. When I mentioned that the schools she mentioned all cost over $30k a year, and that the honors program at my public HS actually outranked them, she brushed the comment aside with something to the extent of "Oh, I'm sure you could have found the money if you really wanted to go," and went on to explain that her two college-age children both went to Ivy Leage schools precisely because of their prep school upbringing.

We then switched gears to academics, I mentioned that I was primarily interested in science, but also wanted to study public policy. The particular school in question was an awesome fit because it had a science/technology-related public policy program. At this revelation, she ended the interview, told me that the school had few science majors, and that she would not be passing along a recommendation to the admissions office, because I'd be a better fit someplace else.

I'll add a tiny bit of backstory: Scheduling this interview was a huge pain in the arse, had to be done through her administrative assistant at work, and she rescheduled several times. Her (enormous) home was gated (in an area where such a practice is completely unnecessary), and one of her "servants" (their word, not mine) answered the door when I knocked.

I'll gladly name & shame: This was for Georgetown's school of Foreign Affairs; my interviewer was an MD, and not an alumna of the school that I was applying to.

Granted, this is only one data point, but it was a pretty startling wakeup call. Admissions results did seem to support her side of the story. Only two students from my school were admitted to Georgetown, while the number of students admitted from the much smaller, all-boys Catholic school down the road was in the double-digits. I was rejected from several fairly decent private colleges in New England, while the colleges that did accept me were of a similar caliber, not in New England, and all offered considerable merit-based scholarships. I was evidently very impressive to one subset of schools, and undesirable or boring to the other.

The discrimination against Asian-americans and women during the admissions process is also a very poorly-guarded secret. Faze's comment is a bit sparse on details, but there is plenty of evidence to back up his claim. However, race and affirmative action are topics for another thread.

posted by schmod at 10:36 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is it OK to assume that prep school kids are wealthy, white, indulged, and privy to special treatment?

Because this one has connections in Washington, and a Newsweek article written about her. Like I said, I don't like making snap judgments -- there's a perfectly reasonable chance that she's worked her ass off, and is indeed more intelligent than her peers (regardless of how much money her parents have).

However, the only concretely impressive thing on her resume is her GPA, which as others here have mentioned, can be completely subjective (so....really, it isn't all that concrete).
posted by schmod at 10:44 AM on November 5, 2010


schmod: "Back when I was applying to schools, one particular alumni interviewer had the gall to open the interview by asking me why I didn't go to a private school like her children did. When I mentioned that the schools she mentioned all cost over $30k a year, and that the honors program at my public HS actually outranked them, she brushed the comment aside with something to the extent of "Oh, I'm sure you could have found the money if you really wanted to go," and went on to explain that her two college-age children both went to Ivy Leage schools precisely because of their prep school upbringing."

I had a similar experience with an alumni interview I had with a father-daughter team who despite both going to public schools themselves before they went to Elite Midwestern University both supposed my math work at public school would be far too weak for Elite Midwestern University's strong emphasis on qualitative work. They then proceeded to explain how taking classes at Elite Midwestern University leaves you absolutely no time to have any kind of extracurricular life, and you're lucky if you can spare five minutes to stuff some turkey in your mouth at Thanksgiving.

People can be real dicks sometimes.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:45 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't read anything to suggest that eliminating the SAT lowers socioeconomic diversity.

Read "The Price of Admission" and you will see there are a variety of games that admissions play to keep the pool weighted towards wealthy candidates.
posted by borges at 10:48 AM on November 5, 2010


My cousins and some of my American-born Asian friends who live in California are very well convinced that Stanford requires Asian applicants to be of a higher caliber than white applicants. My cousins in particular have seen it happen in at their high school where white applicants with lower scores and fewer honors and fewer impressive extracurriculars were admitted to Stanford. The college counselors are well-aware of this as well.

I read an article awhile ago that also says the same thing is true for medical and law schools, where Asian applicants are considered "overrepresented" and have to score higher than white applicants to be admitted. I'm still googling to bring it up but it's been awhile and I don't remember if I read it online or not.
posted by anniecat at 10:55 AM on November 5, 2010


As I said, the no-SAT trend is probably more about race than anything else

It's actually probably more about money.
posted by anniecat at 10:57 AM on November 5, 2010


The Price of Admission is on google books in either its entirety or an incredibly lengthy excerpt.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:58 AM on November 5, 2010


Why is it OK to assume that prep school kids are wealthy, white, indulged, and privy to special treatment?

Um. Have you been to a prep school recently? Last few I walked through were full of wealthy, white, indulged, special-treatment-privy kids who would argue vehemently that they were none of the above.

Fun fact: even if you qualify for a full-ride under the (*cough*) generous financial aid programs of any of these upper-tier schools, you're still responsible for fees and books and lodging and any of the other myriad expenses that crop up. It's the same kind of crap the public universities in California are pulling: tuition doesn't move, but damned if the fees (which in-state residents still have to pay, natch) aren't skyrocketing. Guess who can't afford to pay those fees?
posted by Mayor West at 11:03 AM on November 5, 2010


While I attended a UC during undergrad, the UC system was still practicing affirmative-action based admissions. The demographics were about 37% White, 9% Hispanic, 3.5% Black, 0.5% Native American, 50% Asian (including Pacific Islanders and Indians). When I gave campus tours to prospective students and their parents, I would note that the 50% Asian demographic was actually very diverse, and I broke down the percentages by Chinese-, Japanese, Korean-, Filipino-, Vietnamese-, and Indian-American, in order not to make it sound like it was some ambiguous block of Asians making up half the campus. (I always added the "-American", as you would not believe how many people think that our school imported students in from other countries; around 95% of the campus population was California residents.)

Right before I graduated, the UC system decided to stop with the affirmative-action race-based admissions. The debate on campus was basically a white / other debate, meaning that people believed that it was about making sure that worthy whites were not excluded from admissions because some academically-challenged non-white would take their seats. I am not talking about straw-men, as I personally knew many people that asserted this argument, on both sides of the racial divide. More than one Caucasian person believed that they did not get into the higher-tier UC because of affirmative action, and that some less-worthy non-white person literally took their spot.

After the UC system stopped the affirmative-action race-based admissions, the demographics shifted. Oddly, white admissions did not increase, to my recollection; but the Asian demographics went up to around 60%. I recall Black and Hispanic admissions decreasing.

Some white people I knew had a visceral reaction toward Asians when it comes to college admissions. I have heard many ideas from people that wanted to decrease Asian admissions on how to do so, by focusing on what is "really" important in college: emphasis on extra-curricular activities, including sports (Asians are often seen as bookish non-athletes, which is a poor stereotype), and less emphasis on SAT scores.

So, when I see that SAT scores are being dismissed by some colleges, based on my experience, one of the first things that comes to mind is that white people are trying to decrease Asian-American admissions. So, despite Faze's reputation, what he said rings true to me.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:15 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Canada does not need standardized tests because are best universities are all so ladrge that the competition is not high to get accepted. The University of Toronto is the one of best research universities in Canada, has over 50,000 undergraduate students, and accepted me (with my good but not great final year average - equivant of a 3.2 or 3.5).

Because the university is large -- and because we have many other large, good universities in Canada -- students are given the opportunity to prove themselves in the actual university, not by jumping through hoops before.

As well, in Ontario, extra-curricular activities were not even asked about -- they were not considered relevant. And, in the late 1990s at least, they didn't care about any year of highschool but the last -- you could pull down Ds from grade 9-12, but do well in Grade 13 and that was all that mattered. Which is great for late bloomers.
posted by jb at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a similar experience with an alumni interview...
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:45 AM on November 5


After writing that comment, I almost didn't post it, because it sounds too ridiculous to believe.... such is the world we live in, I guess?
posted by schmod at 11:19 AM on November 5, 2010


Also, I wonder how many people realize that the SAT is no longer a standardized test. Students with medical clearance are allowed either time and a half or, in some case, double time to take the test. As someone who was involved in SAT development, prep, and proctoring for a couple of years, the students I encountered who met this exception were uniformly of one demographic: incredibly wealthy. That's not to say that all students who qualify for the time exemption are wealthy, and I don't to presume slander those who qualify with the claim that they were faking or exaggerating their condition. Just that, in my position, the 20 or so students who were aware of the medical stipulation and who consulted a doctor regarding the issue all came from very wealthy families. It is interesting to me that some people can take the test in 4 hours, others are given 8 hours, and the results from the test are scored the same and sent to colleges without indication of the discrepancy. At the least, schools should know that a student needed 8 hours to finish a test that others could finish in 4. Many students who struggle or score poorly do so because they are not able to get through the test sections in time.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:32 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was a bright kid who had a terrible family life in high school that ate into my extracurriculars and GPA somewhat- alcoholic father, parents divorced and remarried, blah blah it's a long story. Point is, I was one of those kids that did very well on tests, including the SATS, and APs and essays and things like that, but because of a crappy day-to-day life, arguments over money, and whatever else, was constantly tired in class and struggled to be "an achiever" Going to college and getting away from my parents was the best thing that ever happened to me. I hate to think of other kids like I was, who could do well if given the chance, but who will be denied if college apps become an extracurricular game. Also, grade inflation was rampant at certain high schools in my hometown and not at others, so that's another hitch.

This was me too. I can't imagine where I'd be if it weren't for my test scores. I was bottom 50% in my class in high school and graduated number 1 in my class in college.
posted by melissam at 12:01 PM on November 5, 2010


Asians as a group ace the SATs. No-SAT admissions is a cover for "fewer Asians".
posted by Faze at 8:47 AM on November 5 [6 favorites +] [!]

Not according to the facts. Asians get barely above average on critical reading and 60-70 (out of 800) above average on math. That's hardly "acing".
posted by Ndwright at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2010


I wonder how many people realize that the SAT is no longer a standardized test. [...] At the least, schools should know that a student needed 8 hours to finish a test that others could finish in 4.

Two things. First, the time consideration has been around for at least a decade (when I took the test); it's not exactly something new. Second, those same kids will get considerations and extended time in college, as well. I know that you made a point of saying that you're not trying to slander people. Which is great! But disclosing that people took different times is opening the door to discrimination against people. It's hard enough to academically succeed with dyslexia or similar disorders without being discriminated against in the college admissions process. Being bright and needing extra time are certainly not exclusive.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:16 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My point is simply that the test is not standardized.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:22 PM on November 5, 2010


Stanovich said it best in What Intelligence Tests Miss when he explains how George W. Bush has an IQ of 120, and asks why we still use these things to assess merit? Measures of general "intelligence" are way way overrated. What the world needs is an institution that tests for rationality.
posted by tybeet at 12:24 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or simply have different departments administer tests that have some actual relevance to them, like Waterloo's Euclid test. Why are kids trying to get in to liberal arts or medicine writing the same university entrance exam as future engineers? How dumb is that?
posted by GuyZero at 12:28 PM on November 5, 2010


tybeet: While Bush certainly said a lot of stupid things, I don't think he is really a stupid man. I think we like to think of him as an idiot, because it would be much more disconcerting to think of him as what he really is: evil.

No one stupid could have herded the cabal of Reaganites and concerted an attack on the power of the legislative and judicial branches. While I'm sure Cheney did his fair share of puppetry, I'm sure Bush also used his own wiles to advance his personal sinister agenda.
posted by reenum at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2010


opening the door to discrimination against people.

I think the point that he was making was that it would be fair to discriminate on this basis.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2010


Why are kids trying to get in to liberal arts or medicine writing the same university entrance exam as future engineers? How dumb is that?

Because most 17 year olds don't know whether they want to be a doctor, an artist, or an engineer.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2010


My alma mater has been SAT-optional for decades, and probably longer. (I'm honestly not sure if standardized test scores were ever required, now that I think about it. Maybe they just never bought into it from the beginning.)

Anyway, it does have the effect of bringing up the average SAT score metric; that's obvious. If you make the scores optional, only people with good scores are going to send them in. This is important to private colleges who feel that they need to stay high up on the USN&WR rankings. (Which is a topic in itself, and sad, but being ranked highly on that list is felt to be very important particularly at the second-tier / not-quite-Ivys.)

But more importantly, someone who has a flawless transcript, essays, interviews well, etc., but bombed the test for some reason (maybe they just don't test well, maybe they don't have the money for prep classes, whatever) can just decline to send it, without attaching any stigma to their packet. On the other hand, someone who did really well can choose to send their scores in for consideration.

It always struck me as a good system overall. Pretty much a win/win; the school can admit a wider variety of students without risking their precious average-SAT figure, and students can spend time on more useful things than taking prep classes for a test that isn't reflective of much in college or real life. And the rare student who for some reason wants the SAT score to be there, attached to their name, still has the option of including it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:34 PM on November 5, 2010


I think the point that he was making was that it would be fair to discriminate on this basis.

It's not necessarily that I think it would be okay to discriminate on this basis. Rather, I think it's discriminatory against poor and disadvantaged students who could use the extra time but do not have access to the resources to diagnose their various learning disabilities. As I said before, the people I encountered who utilized the extra time were uniformly wealthy. I don't think that only wealthy people are dyslexic, have ADD, etc. The other problem I have is that the perception of the SAT is that it is a standardized test - i.e., everyone answers the same questions in the same amount of time. This is not the case and I don't think it would hurt if more people understood that.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the point of view of the university, who cares? You want to get into Stanford Engineering? Write the engineering exam. You want to get into English at brown? Write the Liberal Arts exam.
You don't know what you want to do? Go to a non-SAT school or just writer every exam out there. I don't see why the system has to be optimized for people who can't make decisions.
posted by GuyZero at 12:36 PM on November 5, 2010


Did this thread get British all of a sudden? Who "writes" exams?
posted by smackfu at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


tybeet: While Bush certainly said a lot of stupid things, I don't think he is really a stupid man. I think we like to think of him as an idiot, because it would be much more disconcerting to think of him as what he really is: evil.

That's essentially my point. Intelligence is not a good indicator to use when judging the worthiness of someone for important positions in society. Even besides that, intelligence doesn't have a practically meaningful correlation with "success". Intelligence is simply a benchmark of the brain's processing power. It says nothing for how they will actually use it. It's amazing how much importance we place on such a shallow tool.
posted by tybeet at 12:44 PM on November 5, 2010


From the point of view of the university, who cares? You want to get into Stanford Engineering? Write the engineering exam. You want to get into English at brown? Write the Liberal Arts exam.
You don't know what you want to do? Go to a non-SAT school or just writer every exam out there. I don't see why the system has to be optimized for people who can't make decisions.


This is not how the American educational system works. Everyone takes the SATs (or, potentially the ACTs); there are no individual subject exams (well, technically the SAT II, but that's not used to admit students to schools). Also, students are not admitted by major except in very rare circumstances.

This has nothing to do with an inability to make a decision.
posted by good day merlock at 12:46 PM on November 5, 2010


Clarification: not used to admit students to specific schools, i.e. an English program... obviously some universities use it for admittance.
posted by good day merlock at 12:46 PM on November 5, 2010


he other problem I have is that the perception of the SAT is that it is a standardized test - i.e., everyone answers the same questions in the same amount of time.

I agree that the SAT is a timed test and I think the limit should apply to everyone.

Even if you can convince your college to give you more time during your exams there, one day you'll have a job and then what are you going to do? Ask everyone to have longer meetings so that you can figure out what's going on?

If you have a learning disability, while having other kinds of intelligence that are useful in other contexts then those should be measured. There should be another test that is much more difficult and for which you are given 6 hours.

This way, universities could allow everyone to take either test or both. My impression is that more time and increased difficulty would allow more informative questions, and it would probably be a better test.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:50 PM on November 5, 2010


Ask everyone to have longer meetings so that you can figure out what's going on?

In my experience, the meetings are still the same length but their questions are awful and about stuff that was just covered.
posted by smackfu at 12:54 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is not how the American educational system works. Everyone takes the SATs (or, potentially the ACTs); there are no individual subject exams (well, technically the SAT II, but that's not used to admit students to schools). Also, students are not admitted by major except in very rare circumstances.

So my thesis is that the current SAT system is sufficiently broken that the US should move to a vastly different system. Also, really, people don't get admitted by major? What? Even into programs like engineering and science? Universities with multiple departments can't possibly be admitting students as a broad mass considering there may be a vastly different supply/demand ratio for each program.

Did this thread get British all of a sudden? Who "writes" exams?

Is that really an Anglicism? Must be my colonial upbringing. Do Americans only "take" exams?
posted by GuyZero at 1:05 PM on November 5, 2010


Yep, although I don't know why my tone was a bit over-the-top. Sorry.
posted by smackfu at 1:08 PM on November 5, 2010


Also, really, people don't get admitted by major? What? Even into programs like engineering and science? Universities with multiple departments can't possibly be admitting students as a broad mass considering there may be a vastly different supply/demand ratio for each program.


It depends on the school -- Duke, for example, has the Pratt school of Engineering and the Trinity school of Arts and Sciences, and never the twain shall meet.

Stanford, on the other hand, does not require the declaration of a major until either the junior of sophomore year (I can't remember exactly), the general idea, I suppose, being that all Stanford students are such spectacularly shining well-rounded examples of humanity that they can succeed in whatever they want. I believe that was the reasoning behind making everybody (even the engineers) take at least one gender studies and one art class as well.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:15 PM on November 5, 2010


So my thesis is that the current SAT system is sufficiently broken that the US should move to a vastly different system.

I can agree with that. The SAT system really is broken, although I'd be shocked if we saw a change in it. I like that some schools aren't requiring the SAT, but I don't think "just grades" is a very fair assessment due to the way high schools vary in their assessment and grading.

Also, really, people don't get admitted by major? What? Even into programs like engineering and science? Universities with multiple departments can't possibly be admitting students as a broad mass considering there may be a vastly different supply/demand ratio for each program.

In my experience, universities in the US admit students to "schools" within the university, and students have an intended major. I was, for instance, accepted to the journalism school. Other students were accepted to the liberal arts or engineering schools. The major you write down on your application tends to be tentative, although it might be harder to switch between schools in the university if, for instance, your decide you want to switch from chemical engineering to English.

One of the key facets of (most of) American higher education is the concept of a tenuous major — that you can go in wanting to major in psychology and come out with a degree in education. While I like the idea of accepting exams based on intended major, our educational system just hasn't been built in a way that makes that viable. The SAT is what works (kind of) for the US: colleges here tend to push a more liberal arts curriculum, thus we like the general multi-discipline aspect of the SAT. I'm not sure having specific exams for different intended majors would be appropriate here. It would box in students in a way that's very, very different than the way college acceptances & education have evolved here.

Is that really an Anglicism? Must be my colonial upbringing. Do Americans only "take" exams?

Yeah. I have never, ever heard an American say "writing" an exam unless they just returned from studying abroad.
posted by good day merlock at 1:18 PM on November 5, 2010


Every high school has grade inflation except for mine!
posted by naoko at 1:57 PM on November 5, 2010


Who "writes" exams?

Somebody has to write them. Otherwise how can people take them?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:02 PM on November 5, 2010


Even if you can convince your college to give you more time during your exams there, one day you'll have a job and then what are you going to do? Ask everyone to have longer meetings so that you can figure out what's going on?

If you have a learning disability, while having other kinds of intelligence that are useful in other contexts then those should be measured. There should be another test that is much more difficult and for which you are given 6 hours.

This way, universities could allow everyone to take either test or both. My impression is that more time and increased difficulty would allow more informative questions, and it would probably be a better test.


Wow, that some serious ableism you got going on there. Exposing rich kids gaming a system does not mean you have to crap on actual disabled kids getting accommodations. Though it does make you look like a douche.

Do you have a problem with schools and workplaces that make accomodations for their disabled employees? Might as well get rid of those wheelchair ramps and parking spots, then.
posted by emjaybee at 2:03 PM on November 5, 2010


Wow, that some serious ableism you got going on there. Exposing rich kids gaming a system does not mean you have to crap on actual disabled kids getting accommodations. Though it does make you look like a douche.

Do you have a problem with schools and workplaces that make accomodations for their disabled employees? Might as well get rid of those wheelchair ramps and parking spots, then.


There's a way to clearly explain your position without resorting to namecalling. I didn't insult you in order to make my point.

That said, did you read what I wrote or just bristle at the example? Instead of an allowance of additional time, which as Arsenio points out renders the test "unstandardized", I am suggesting an alternative test. I agree that people have different types of intelligence. In that case, why not measure those other kinds of intelligence? If some of the "regular" kids take both tests, it will be possible to norm the alternative tests so that a fair comparison can be made.

What I think doesn't make sense is for kids to be admitted into programs that are intellectually out of reach. If we're going to resort to standardized testing to make that assessment, then we should invest a lot of effort into designing good tests, but after that, we should trust the test.

I know it might seem like we should just be patient with intellectually alternative (what is the terminology?) kids, the way we're patient with the elderly crossing the street, or the handicapped getting through doors. However, I don't always agree with this analogy when it comes to education or employment. People have to get across the street or through doors, but they're not entitled to attend any school or be a part of any team. We have a responsibility to provide top-tier education to the brightest children, and it's in everyone's interest to enable them to be economically productive with the minimum impediment.

One thing that timed test does poorly at, I think, is measure aptitude for conducting research. I think being able to focus on a problem patiently and creatively is something valuable and unmeasured. Perhaps a test for this quality would afford "intellectually alternative" children opportunities that the current test structure does not.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:13 PM on November 5, 2010


Did this thread get British all of a sudden? Who "writes" exams?

Seriously. I'm sick of hearing Americans call a crazy person a "nutter" and say "that's spot on." I groan every time a Mefite who is American writes "spot on." I'm not British, neither are you, unless you are.
posted by anniecat at 3:19 PM on November 5, 2010


I'll gladly name & shame: This was for Georgetown's school of Foreign Affairs; my interviewer was an MD, and not an alumna of the school that I was applying to.

schmod, I had a similarly poor interviewing experience with Georgetown back in the early 1990s. I was applying early action to the School of Foreign Service. My alumni interview was with a woman who asked me zero questions about myself - just told me how hard it had been as a woman in SFS back when she was in school (at least she had actually been in SFS). My application was deferred; I explained to my guidance counselor that I was very worried that the interview was a major factor, and he managed to secure a second interview for me with a member of the admissions staff who was traveling in our area (New Mexico). My family has little experience with higher education and I had no idea that I could stand up for myself in that way. (I did get in under regular admission, and paid very little because although Georgetown does not give merit scholarships, it does give need-based aid. And boy did I have the need.)

I have a young relative who is applying to Georgetown for next year, and who lives in California. I have already warned him that any alum can sign up to be an interviewer, and that if he has any hinky feelings about his interview, to let the admissions office know. Georgetown is one of those schools that looks at a lot of different factors, and every piece counts. They are holding out against the Common App for that reason.
posted by candyland at 3:19 PM on November 5, 2010


What I think doesn't make sense is for kids to be admitted into programs that are intellectually out of reach.

Someone needing extra time on an exam most certainly does not mean that they are aiming for something "out of reach". The fact that you think it does mean that means that you really did mean to cast aspersions on the people you proctored for. For example, being dyslexic can mean that it takes longer to read questions, but it hasn't got a single everlasting thing to do with being able to understand them or do the work necessary to solve them. It also has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether they will be successful in a rigorous college program or in a high powered job. It doesn't mean that they're dumb or unable to do the work. It just means it takes longer to read the question. Which the SAT, ACT and every single college campus in the country makes accommodations for as mandated by the ADA.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:27 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The fact that you think it does mean that means that you really did mean to cast aspersions on the people you proctored for.

I certainly did not mean to "cast aspersions" against anyone. I obviously don't have the luxury of your experience, and so I've naturally come to different conclusions.

My sense is that it doesn't make sense to accomodate someone who takes longer to read the question, but not accomodate someone who is a daydreamer, or someone who takes longer to compose a solution. I like the idea of level playing fields, but maybe you're right that these allowances do level the playing field. I'm still not convinced that they're the best way to do that.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:36 PM on November 5, 2010


Because people with learning disabilities have clearly diagnosable cognitive deficits. My husband has the handwriting of a six year old, and it takes him as long as a six year old does to write legibly. He also got a 3.8 GPA in a tough undergrad program. Having a computer and extra time on tests didn't give him an advantage -- it was just giving him the tools he needed because his brain doesn't work as well for some things as mine and yours (if you are not also disabled). You could tell it was no advantage, because he did as well or better on the harder part of the program -- the take home essays.

His disabilities have given him problems that he no longer has accomodation for. In his field, name-dropping authors is important; he has trouble remembering names, and he has taken flak about this. But it doesn't mean that the important cognitive tasks are beyond him -- just that, like every disabled person he has to work out his own solutions.

But at the same time, we in the able bodied world should make whatever reasonable accomodations we can. We let a deaf student get a note taker for lectures, and we give extra time for learning disabled students. Because having a learning disability means that you have specific cognitive difficulties -- your ability to add 5+7 may be impaired, but your ability to intelligently analyse international relations of the late 19th century may be just fine or, indeed, better than average.
posted by jb at 4:36 PM on November 5, 2010


A day dreamer can stop daydreaming.

Someone with a learning disability has a brain that has specific problems that they cannot change, but which will not hold them back if they are given appropriate accomodations, so that they can excel at what they are good at.
posted by jb at 4:39 PM on November 5, 2010


schmod, I had a similarly poor interviewing experience with Georgetown back in the early 1990s. I was applying early action to the School of Foreign Service. My alumni interview was with a woman who asked me zero questions about myself - just told me how hard it had been as a woman in SFS back when she was in school (at least she had actually been in SFS). My application was deferred; I explained to my guidance counselor...

You bring up another interesting point. Out of the two students admitted to Georgetown in my year, one had some serious help getting in. My public high school pulled every string it had in order to get this guy in, and the head of our guidance department knew about his acceptance before he did. His "story" was heartwarming and interesting, and I have no doubt that it helped him get into the place.

Mind you, I'm genuinely not bitter about this. After that interview, I didn't want to go anywhere near Georgetown. I wanted my %*#&ing application fee back. Later on, I played on an intercollegiate sports team (in the loosest sense of the term) that occasionally competed against Georgetown. Their sportsmanship and conduct bore out the impressions that I got during that interview. I'm sure there are plenty of wonderful people there, but my contact with the school's "ambassadors" has been overwhelmingly negative.

Oh, and I did apply to SFS, which is why I was peeved that I was interviewed by somebody who graduated from A&S. As I alluded to earlier, I'm almost dismayed that people here are able to relate to that outlandish and ridiculous story.


The inherent iniquity of my school "pulling every string" for this kid became apparent after I was waitlisted at my top two choices, and the department refused to even send an updated transcript to help bolster my chances of admission. I am bitter that the one person who could have swayed the outcome chose to do nothing. I'd like to be judged on merit alone, rather than by how cozy I happened to be with my guidance councilor.

And, to reiterate, I ended up attending a wonderful public college, and got a great education there. Although it left me with little name-recognition and few alumni connections upon graduating, the education itself was solid as a rock; my BS might as well have been an MS given the breadth and depth of topics that we covered. At the end of my senior year of High School, I felt like a failure; at the end of my senior year of college, I was very exhausted, and very satisfied with what I had accomplished.
posted by schmod at 10:16 PM on November 5, 2010


If you have a learning disability, while having other kinds of intelligence that are useful in other contexts then those should be measured. There should be another test that is much more difficult and for which you are given 6 hours.

I don't think you know what a learning disability is.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:58 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


GuyZero writes "What I don't get is how Canada, the UK, Germany, France, India, etc, etc all manage to pump out equally qualified university graduates - well, actually in some fields they churn out better qualified university graduates - without the mythical SAT."

In BC there are standardized provincial exams on core subjects in your final year and the marks are available to admission departments.

jb writes "Someone with a learning disability has a brain that has specific problems that they cannot change, but which will not hold them back if they are given appropriate accomodations, so that they can excel at what they are good at."

This is discussion is interest as my experience with accommodation is in a vocational school where it is often a case of "why are you here?" Say I'm teaching process piping. I'll usually have about 1 in 100 of my students who require extra time on exams (and I assume course work but we don't track that systematically). These students often require 3-5X as much time to complete a task as the average student and they don't get more efficient as time goes on. If that continues post graduation they'll never hold an hourly job past their probation periods. And while process piping pays well taking an effective 50-80% pay cut means they'll have a hard time supporting themselves even if they manage to find piece work. It's discomforting because it's exposes the system for the money transfer system that it so often is.

Obviously general degrees are less pigeon holing than vocational training; I'd love to see how these students do compared to the rest of their cohorts 5-10 years down the road.
posted by Mitheral at 11:56 AM on November 6, 2010


As somebody who lives in a country where it is not commonplace to base postsecondary admittance on a single multi-part test, whenever the SATs come up I just get chills
posted by tehloki at 1:08 PM on November 6, 2010


Although it left me with little name-recognition and few alumni connections upon graduating

As an alumna of the same institution, I have never run into this problem - especially in DC where there were zillions of us. The one weird thing I've encountered is that lots of people have no idea that it's public.
posted by naoko at 4:58 PM on November 6, 2010


As an alumna of the same institution, I have never run into this problem - especially in DC where there were zillions of us. The one weird thing I've encountered is that lots of people have no idea that it's public.

Hence, why I live in DC :-P

But, seriously, our alumni connections and career services are shit outside of one or two fields. I get the religious thing all the time too -- I guess the name sounds sort of faux-Catholic?
posted by schmod at 8:55 PM on November 6, 2010


This actually makes me sad. I like standardized tests. Always have. They're fun and because they're high pressure and short term, they are one of the only things I can concentrate on. My scores were remarkably consistent, percentile-wise, over the PSAT, SAT, LSAT, and GRE, which either says something interesting about standardized tests or something weird about my brain. I think they measure something different than a GPA--they measure, to a certain extent, how you can perform under extreme pressure. That's an important skill in college and in grad school and in life.
posted by millipede at 11:05 PM on November 6, 2010


Mitheral: being disabled means that there are certain things you will never be able to do. My visually impaired friend isn't asking to be a truck driver.

But being disabled shouldn't stop someone from doing something they can do, just because of the habits of our testing system. Historians never work to hourly deadlines; the exams for undergrad history classes (a mandatory step to becoming historian) are timed, but primarily just to organize room use. Giving a student extra-time on an exam because they have a disability whereby their reading comprehension works a bit differently* than a non-disabled person does not affect the true test intended: the thought and analysis they apply to what they have read.

* (it's a complicated thing -- basically, neuro-typical people usually have their reading comprehension go up linearly; many learning disabled people have their comprehension on a curve. )

Accomodation shouldn't be about training people for jobs they can't do, due to a disability. But it should be about removing barriers to jobs and participation that they can do -- like standardized tests which keep them out of university programs they could excel at. My husband, for example, was discouraged from applying to any American Universities for graduate school because he cannot do the arithmetic required by the GRE (10th grade) and could not get accomodations (like using a calculator). Though he was accepted to an Oxbridge PhD program, his inability to add 5+7 kept him out of the American programs.

(Ironically enough, I'm an arithmetic whiz, but I had to go to him for help with a stats course I attempted -- he's never done stats, but he has an instinctive understanding of probability that I lack).
posted by jb at 8:57 AM on November 7, 2010


I knew of people who received major scholarships to Caltech, MIT, and Yale but were denied admission to Princeton.

For what it's worth, MIT and Yale do not offer merit-based scholarships, only need-based scholarships. (And so it amuses me whenever people rave about how Johnny got into Yale with a scholarship! It's not because he's smart; it's because his parents can't afford to plunk down sixty grand a year.)
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:39 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I don't get is how Canada, the UK, Germany, France, India, etc, etc all manage to pump out equally qualified university graduates - well, actually in some fields they churn out better qualified university graduates - without the mythical SAT.

Canada many many standardized tests that are used for admissions and scholarships. Off the top of my head: the Da Vinci contest (engineering), the CCC (informatics), the Chem13 (chemistry), the Sir Isaac Newton (physics), the COMC (math.) I'm sure there are plenty more.

These are all timed tests, and I remember that many of them include the possibility of winning scholarships.

What this list shows is that many competition formats are possible, and providing these offers a variety of opportunities for adept students to make their mark.

I really don't like the idea of allowing anyone to have extra time on something like this. It really is a zero-sum game. If someone does better because of extra time, someone else has her ranking pushed down.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:02 PM on November 7, 2010


But the person who does better because of extra time may also genuinely be a better candidate in every way - more motivated, more intelligent with better reasoning skills and over all cognitive acuity. That's precisely the point that people are trying to make here. Just because it takes one person 5 minutes to read a paragraph doesn't mean that they are smarter than the person for which it takes 10 minutes. The best student and the best employee isn't the one who can do the work the fastest. It's the person who can synthesize information and do the most accurate work. People who need extra time on the test aren't getting a magical leg up, they're getting a level playing field. Really really truly for serious here.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:00 PM on November 7, 2010


So why not have a contest where the problems are tough and short, so that your hypothetical example, the more motivated, more intelligent, better reasoning person, will do better? If I remember, the Da Vinci contest has only 20 problems on it, but gives three hours. Whether you read the problems in five minutes or 25 minutes, you still have the lion's share of the time for doing the contest. Another contest format that I liked was the Titan test, which has no time limit.

Or, why not have a technological solution where a computer reads the test to the person?

How would you feel if you came second to someone who got twice as much time as you?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:20 PM on November 7, 2010


Or how about having a system where one's rank on one test does not keep you from getting a good education? Provide enough places at the better universities, and end Alma mater based discrimination.

I know - very hard to do in a system with private universities. Though sometimes the discrimination is sometimes blatant -- my husband once saw an advertisment for an admin assistant that paid $90,000 a year, provided that person graduated from an Ivy League university. Both of us have taught and graded at an Ivy League university -- the bottom students there are NOT better than good (or sometimes even average) students at less prestigious universities.

The UK has the same problem -- strong biases in favour of Oxbridge students, especially in the private sector.
posted by jb at 5:25 AM on November 8, 2010


esprit de l'escalier, I do think that what you propose would be a much better system. The SAT is flawed across the board, but making it even more flawed for one set of test takers wouldn't fix those flaws. I would love to see a system where the sort of tests you talk about are accepted and used throughout the US. Until that happens, the test being as fair as possible (extra time for those who genuinely need it) is a good compromise position. It's not perfect, but the SAT is hardly perfect, either.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:07 PM on November 8, 2010


stoneweaver: agreed.

jb: I realize that standardized testing is not the perfect way to isolate the brightest people, but the goal has to be isolating them. You can't just have a massive school with everyone in it because what happens is the slower students demand that classes slow down for them and then the brighter kids lose.

However, you have a good point about oversimplified hiring whereby getting in to a good school paves your future. My experience is that there is a shift in the more competitive industries where recruiters are developing techniques for finding good people that didn't go to the best schools for one reason or another. Unfortunately, that's usually at really big companies that have large HR departments and benefit from devoting resources to find the hidden gems.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:33 PM on November 8, 2010


"Canada many many standardized tests that are used for admissions and scholarships. Off the top of my head: the Da Vinci contest (engineering), the CCC (informatics), the Chem13 (chemistry), the Sir Isaac Newton (physics), the COMC (math.) I'm sure there are plenty more."

They do exist, although I have yet to meet somebody in university who has actually done them, let alone been accepted because of their performance in them.
posted by tehloki at 8:38 PM on November 10, 2010


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