Saturday, April 11, 2009

Do high-income students have advantages in the SAT? Should SAT count less?


The Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009 Washington Post (as part of the Magazine) has an article by Miranda S. Spivack on the “admissions gap”. Particularly this refers to the strong statistical correlation between family income and students’ S.A.T. scores.

The story title is “The Admissions Gap: Affluent students who can afford pricey SAT prep have an advantage when it comes to getting into college. But more educators are asking whether such exams are necessary,” link here.

The article discusses the Lerner family in Montgomery County, MD, (the printed magazine, available today to Post subscribers, has some family illustrations and the online link has the same images in a slide show) and then goes on to discuss the advantages that high income parents can confer. Some of this includes extra tutoring and retakes of the test (meaning that some colleges require all scores be submitted, to level the playing field) but some of it simply relates to better cognitive skills (literacy and grown-up subject matter and people) available in higher income homes.

Another important set of tests involved Advanced Placement (and IB) credits. AP tests often have a major free response section, with multiple-part problems based on some practical or laboratory situation or experiment. AP teachers often give practice exams. The multiple-part question approach suggests a way to teach physics and math: use practical situations that invoke “self-interest” or “team interest” that create practical problems to solve, where there will be retention because of practical interest. Sports could provide a lot of material. For example, in geometry a text of teacher could present problems based on the measurements of major league baseball stadiums, or (in physics class) the physics associated with predicting how long a forward pass stays in the air.

In his 2004 book “The Cheating Culture” Princeton professor David Callahan, toward the end of the book, discussed the enormous amount that some high income families can spend to give their kids advantages.

The article discusses Bowdoin College in Maine and its “readers” of applications. I recall that the college was often seen on student quiz shows even in the 1960s.

But academic achievement creates an enormous divide in our society, with lower income males in minority groups believing that it indicates tribal disloyalty. The culture of achievement comes through so clearly on “It’s Academic” (now in its 2009 finals) which has plenty of female and minority students appearing – yet it’s clear that all of them grew up in a culture that encouraged achievement.

I noted something amusing on today’s “Academic” and add for “smallstep.gov” which said, “just don’t stay online too long.”

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