Thursday, February 27, 2014

Are SATs Necessary? The List of SAT-Optional Schools

New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert took the SAT recently, in response to a new book by a mom, Debbie Stier, who decided to try to get a perfect score on the test after seeing her high school age son struggle. Stier's story was much written about on the Internet, and now we can read more about it in "The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT." 

It's always fascinating when smart adults put themselves in kids' shoes, when someone without a corporate ax to grind takes a cold, hard look at these tests - and issues critical opinions that I am inclined to value. What exactly do the tests measure? Are they the predictors of success that they are supposed to be? How and why have they taken hold in the ways they have? 

It's worthwhile to ask these questions, to understand that the tests are not great predictors of academic success, and to critique the industry that has arisen around them, including the financial interests of the College Board itself, which administers the tests.

Still, as flawed as the tests are, they are not going away. What's a high school student to do if he or she is not a great tester? You can do all the tutoring and test prep your family's budget can afford and/or you can take a serious look at this list of schools for which the tests are optional. An organization called FAIR TEST publishes a list of such schools every year, which you can see here. Do not make final decisions based on the list, since schools may change their policies from year to year. Consult each school's website individually. Sarah Lawrence recently went from test-optional to test-required. Some of the schools on the list are Bard, Bennington, Bowdoin, and Clark University

In the meantime, take a look at Elizabeth Kolbert's fascinating article about The Day She Took the Test. (I must say, I'm disappointed she didn't include her score! Maybe in a follow-up!) Here are a few highlights:
"Many of the questions were tricky; some were genuinely hard. But, even at its most challenging, the exercise [the writing component] struck me as superficial. Critical thinking was never called for, let alone curiosity or imagination. Ironically—or was it defensively?—this was most apparent to me while I was blathering on about the Manhattan Project. A study by an instructor at M.I.T. has shown that success on the SAT essay is closely correlated with length: the more words pile up, the higher the score. When, at Advantage Testing, Stier is shown essays that have received top marks, she is horrified. They are, she writes, “terrible.”
"Whatever is at the center of the SAT—call it aptitude or assessment or assiduousness or ambition—the exam at this point represents an accident. It was conceived for one purpose, adapted for another, and somewhere along the line it acquired a hold on American life that nobody ever intended. It’s not just high-school seniors who are in its thrall; colleges are, too. How do you know how good a school is? Well, by the SAT scores of the students it accepts. (A couple of years ago, the dean of admissions at Claremont McKenna College was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had inflated students’ scores to boost the school’s ranking.) As befits an exam named for itself, the SAT measures those skills—and really only those skills—necessary for the SATs." READ MORE 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Will Colleges Bail on the Common App Organization?

I think this will be one of the big stories to watch, after the disaster of the Common Application roll-out of its new site last fall. Students, parents, and teachers were driven to weeks, if not months, of panic, anxiety, and unnecessary work because of technical problems with the site. As distressing as that was for those groups, few had much awareness of how difficult it was for the colleges and universities to deal with the problems at their end.

The extent of the schools' distress will be revealed in the months to come, as colleges and universities announce whether they will sign up with the Common App, sign up with the alternate site, the Universal Application, and/or perhaps do their own individual admissions.  

Today, we learn that the University of Chicago will be joining about 40 other schools in signing up with the Universal Application. Stay tuned for more on this story. In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the U. of Chicago news from the Washington Post

"One of the story lines of this college admission cycle is how many universities are looking for alternatives to the Common Application after the rocky rollout of its latest online version.
"This week the University of Chicago, a Common App member since 2008, announced that it will add the Universal College Application as an option for the next cycle." READ MORE

Grades Better Predictors of Success Than SATs

Dear Parents of High School Students & Students:

Don't go crazy over standardized tests and test scores. This new study presented in the Seattle Times tells a story with a happy ending that you need to hear:

"When it comes to success in college, a  new study again raises questions about whether college-entrance exams such as the SAT predict how well students will do.
"The study’s authors examined the records of 123,000 students at 33 colleges that don’t require students to submit test scores when they apply for admission.  They compared the 70 percent of students who chose to submit their scores to the 30 percent who did not, and found no significant differences in the college grade-point averages or graduation rates between the two groups.
"Students’ high-school grades were much better predictors of performance, the study’s authors said." READ MORE 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Common App Essay Questions Stay the Same for 2014-15

This just out an hour ago from the Common Application, quoted on their Facebook page:

The Common Application will retain the current set of first-year essay prompts for 2014-15, without any edits or additions. The essay length will continue to be capped at 650 words. The feedback received from member colleges and school counselors has been positive. The essay prompts will be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that they continue to serve students and member colleges well. READ HERE.

Free Download Today Only! Tactics for Getting into College~

My friend Pamela Donnelly's eBook SWAT Team Tactics for Getting Your Teen Into College hit #1 in Education on Amazon last week!  I am happy to share with you her offer for a one-day-only FREE DOWNLOAD day on Amazon

Free Download Day of a #1 Best Seller tomorrow - Tuesday February 11th

Enter to win a free Kindle by posting a review, too -- publishers will put names in a hat and select a winner at random!

This little gem currently has 4.8 out of five stars and has parents thanking the author for her insights into competitively positioning their teens for the college admissions process.

Log on using this link anytime Tuesday February 11th -- and share the love!

Pamela's tutors at Valley Prep Tutoring are also standing by to offer students any support they might need in all subject areas through AP level, in person (San Fernando Valley) or via Skype.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Top Colleges Want to Recruit More Low-Income Students

Some highlights from the Times article on colleges' efforts to recruit more low income students. Worth a read in its entirety here

"Last month, 80 college and university presidents convened at the White House to discuss ways to get more capable low-income students to and through top colleges.
"It’s an important topic — especially as concerns sharpen over slowing rates of social mobility in the United States. A college education continues to be the most reliable ladder that allows poor children to climb to the middle class and higher....
"The reasons for these disparities are clear but the remedies are complicated. Poor kids tend to go to under-resourced high schools and, when they graduate, are often not academically prepared for top colleges...
"Poor students who are accepted into selective four-year universities often find themselves adrift — overwhelmed by the financial, academic and cultural challenges created by an environment shaped to serve the habits and needs of the wealthy.

"With some notable exceptions, the nation’s most selective private college and universities — institutions that tend to produce the majority of the nation’s leaders — haven’t historically worked too hard to attract and retain low-income students. And many remain bastions of privilege." READ MORE