Grade Inflation? GPA vs. Standardized Tests

James Piereson and Naomi Schaeffer Riley, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece: “It might seem unfair that admissions officers place almost as much weight on a one-morning test as they do on grades from four years of high school … But there’s a simple reason for this emphasis on testing: Policy makers and educators have effectively eliminated all the other ways of quantifying student performance.”

“Classroom grades have become meaningless … Figures from the Education Department show that between 1990 and 2009, high-school graduates’ mean GPA rose 0.33 points for women and 0.31 points for men—even while their ACT and SAT scores remained the same … Since high schools are often rewarded for increasing their graduation rates, teachers are fairly reluctant to give out D’s and F’s.”

“‘Grades are increasingly a lousy signal,’ a sociologist explained, ‘especially at those elite places that just hand out the A’s.’ Standardized tests, for all their faults, are the only thing left to judge students by.”

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The Ins and Outs of ‘Early Decision’

The Washington Post: “The binding-commitment path known as ‘early decision’ fills roughly half of the freshman seats at highly ranked Vanderbilt, Emory, Northwestern and Tufts universities, as well as Davidson, Bowdoin, Swarthmore and Claremont McKenna colleges, among others, a Washington Post analysis found … The Post found 37 schools where the early-decision share of enrolled freshmen in 2015 was at least 40 percent. At Duke University, the share was 47 percent, and at the University of Pennsylvania, it was 54 percent.”

“Early-decision applicants also enjoy a crucial edge over the regulars: Their admission rates tend to be much higher … At Penn, the admission rate for early applicants was 24 percent for the class that entered in 2015. The total admission rate, early and regular, was 10 percent … Within the Ivy League, Penn appears to be the most aggressive user of the early process. The early-decision share of freshmen at Dartmouth College was about 43 percent. At Brown and Cornell universities, it was about 38 percent.”

“Eric Furda, Penn’s dean of admissions, said the academic credentials of students who win early admission tend to be stronger than those admitted later in the cycle. Furda also said more early-decision students than ever are qualifying for need-based financial aid. These days, nearly as many early-decision freshmen receive need-based grants from Penn as their peers admitted in the regular cycle, he said … While most early-decision admits enroll, a few do not. The most common reason: If a financial aid offer is deemed insufficient, an admitted student may be released from their pledge.”

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Need-Based Scholarships Offer Ivy-League Discounts

Business Insider: “In 2015, the average need-based scholarship at Yale was a generous $43,989, knocking off a substantial amount of that school’s sticker price. At Harvard, 65% of students receive scholarships, and the average need-based scholarship is $46,000. These schools, along with the other Ivies, can offer such generous financial aid packages because they have extremely large endowments. Harvard’s endowment alone is worth $37.6 billion.”

“But while the net price of attending an Ivy might be really low for low-income students, those students are still not enrolling at any college in very high numbers … One reason low-income students may not enroll in large numbers is that many schools don’t do a good job of publicizing the difference between the sticker price and the net price.”

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The ‘Just Right’ College List

This season, colleges reported a record number of applicants, making it even harder to get in. What does this mean to current high-school students? It means you need to put together the right list of colleges for you. Juniors should be working on their “college list” now. Putting together a smart list is the key to having lots of options and success. What makes a good list?

Academic Fit. First and foremost is academic match. What types of students were accepted recently? What level of grades and scores did they have? How much rigor (how many AP and honors courses) is expected? What is your academic vision and which schools will help you get there?

Selectivity. Colleges publish their acceptance rates. Some are as low as 6%, while others can be as high as 80%. You must consider these statistics while building your list. The highly selective schools require more than top academic performance. Leadership, extracurricular activities that show initiative, and well-written applications and essays will help you compete. However, just because a school is selective does not make it the right fit for you.

What To Study? Review the offered majors and minors for all the schools on your list. You do not have to know what your major will be, however each school on your list should have at least two or three areas of study that you find enticing. Also, review the curriculum. Some students will thrive in a structured curriculum while others want more freedom to explore and perhaps build their own major.

What About Size? The experience at a large university versus a small college could not be more different. You must consider what type of learner you are. If you learn through class participation and discussion, you may prefer the small classes and mentoring that is common in schools with under 5,000 undergraduates. If you are open to attending large lectures and are comfortable with some “self-teaching,” you may enjoy the prodigious opportunities in a large university.

Social Fit. You will be leaving home and living on-campus. You want to find a place where you are comfortable and that will meet your expectations for broadening your horizons. The best way to evaluate social fit is to visit schools and see how it feels. Go with your gut.

Go Broad. You are growing in every way. You may have deep or developing interests — science, music production, forensics or film. Colleges report that 40% of students change their majors; my experience has been that students sometimes change their interests during the college application process itself. So, it is important not to choose too narrow a focus. Think about options. What if I try economics and don’t like it? What if I change my mind? Will the schools on my list still work? Cast a wide net.

Follow Your Dreams. College is all about exploring and trying new things. Do you want to study abroad, conduct original research, attend D1 sporting events or simply meet friends and play Frisbee? Your path is your own – do your own investigation and put together a list that will help you make it all happen.

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Quote of the Day: Bill Gates

“I think the value of getting a great education – that is going to college – is easy to underestimate. The most interesting jobs require a college education. The STEM related jobs are probably the most interesting although they are not for everyone. The value of staying curious – reading a lot and learning new things even after college is also underestimated.” – Bill Gates, college dropout.

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Stanford Acceptance Rate Drops to Zero

Frank Bruni of The New York Times writes: “Cementing its standing as the most selective institution of higher education in the country, Stanford University announced this week that it had once again received a record-setting number of applications and that its acceptance rate — which had dropped to a previously uncharted low of 5 percent last year — plummeted all the way to its inevitable conclusion of 0 percent. With no one admitted to the class of 2020, Stanford is assured that no other school can match its desirability in the near future.”

“’We had exceptional applicants, yes, but not a single student we couldn’t live without,’ said a Stanford administrator who requested anonymity … News of Stanford’s unprecedented selectiveness sent shock waves through the Ivy League, along with Amherst, Northwestern and at least a dozen other elite schools where, as a consequence, there could be substantial turnover among underperforming deans of admission.”

“At first blush, Stanford’s decision would seem to jeopardize its fund-raising … But over recent years, Stanford administrators noticed that as the school rejected more and more comers, it received bigger and bigger donations, its endowment rising in tandem with its exclusivity, its luster a magnet for Silicon Valley lucre.”

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Study Abroad: The Four-Year Program

BloombergBusiness: “Many students are choosing to go further than a one-semester break and attend all four years of college in a foreign city. The number of students enrolled in college outside their countries rose 463 percent from 1975 to 2012, said a report last month by Moody’s Investors Service. International students in the U.S. have grown by 70 percent since 2005, according to the report.”

“College in Europe can be astonishingly cheap for Americans. Forty public and private colleges in continental Europe offer free bachelor’s degrees, taught in English, to Americans … An additional 98 colleges ask tuition of under $4,000 per year … European colleges want American applicants because they can charge higher tuition for non-EU residents. Americans in Europe will still pay considerably less than they would at home … The main thing that holds some Americans back from studying across the Atlantic is a fear that they’ll sacrifice quality—and North American career opportunities.”

Jennifer Viemont, “co-founder of Beyond The States, a database of 350 colleges in 30 countries that offer bachelor’s degrees taught in English,” comments: “The biggest worry people seem to have is that a name from Europe won’t carry the same weight as one from the U.S., but there’s a serious upshot of graduating a year early and with a fraction of the debt. Plus, you’ve seen the world.”

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New SAT Vocabulary Breaks Down in Tiers

The new SAT divides vocabulary into three tiers, reports The Christian Science Monitor. “Tier One words are the simple ones children will pick up on their own: clock, say, or baby. Tier Three words – isotope, say, or peninsula – are generally tied to a specific domain and best learned as needed. Tier Two words tend to have multiple meanings, across a range of domains.” Yes, there’s a word for that: “Polysemy, your 50-cent new word for the day, means having, or being open to, multiple meanings … Host, for instance. It’s used in biology and computer science as well as in social conversation and other areas.”

“The old SAT rewarded rote memorization of definitions. The new test asks students what words are being used to mean in the context of a particular passage. The New SAT … is particularly concerned with testing how well students are identifying ‘arguments’ and ‘claims’ being made in the reading passages, and the ‘evidence’ presented to support them. But if a student thinks of an ‘argument’ not as a tool of persuasion but rather as something likely to get him sent to the principal’s office, he might not do too well on the test.”

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What Admissions Officers Tell Their Own Kids

The New York Times asked admissions officers from nine schools for the advice they give their own children on finding the school that’s right for them. Here is some of their pearly wisdom:

“Knowing who you are provides a protective armor in a process that can be overwhelming. Not only are you inundated with communication from the colleges, everyone you know has an opinion of what is a good college and what is not, and they feel very free to express it. It’s empowering for a teen to be able to say, ‘I’m the kind of person who…’ ” – Diane Anci, Kenyon College.

“Getting those applications in early is the best way to reduce stress senior year. I want them to do well in their academic courses and extracurricular activities and to enjoy that last year of high school. Why spend it struggling with applications? … Think about it strategically: there are thousands of applications and essays to get through. If you get yours in early, the reader may be more relaxed and in a better mood at that point in the process.” – Clark Brigger, Penn State University.

“When my son was applying to schools, I never read his essay. Parents can sometimes do more harm than good with the essay. My advice to students is to first show your essay to a friend and ask, ‘Can you hear my voice in this? Could you pick my essay from a stack of 200?’ The essay doesn’t have to be about something life-changing or confessional. Smaller topics, written well, almost always work best.” – Stephen Farmer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“What I tell students, and my own kids, is that you don’t have to take every advanced class. My high school daughter, for example, is taking advanced math and science courses but chose not to take advanced English and history. You should challenge yourself. For some students this might mean taking the most advanced classes, but it also might mean taking the most advanced classes appropriate for that student, and not spreading themselves too thin.” – Stuart Schmill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I’m not looking for students to have done any particular activity in the summer; but instead, I’m looking to see how students grew from whatever they undertook. I do see students who are doing magnificent research and that is a great thing. And I see students, like my daughter, who are working as a lifeguard at the pool all summer, and they are both learning from those experiences.” – Laura Simmons, Georgia Institute of Technology

“As my son prepares his college list, I’m going to hand him a spreadsheet. Across the top will be the schools, and down the side will be the list of things he feels are most important to him in a college. When he visits these schools and does his research, he’ll fill in the spreadsheet, and it will be a nice road map for him. At some point, once you visit two or three schools in a day or five schools a week, they begin to blend, and you definitely want some bread crumbs to remind you of where you’ve been.” – Gil Villanueva, University of Richmond.

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Do Longer School Days Improve Performance?

Quartz: Britain “will spend up to £285 million ($400.7 million) for a quarter of secondary schools to extend their school day by an hour, in an attempt to improve academic standards … But do longer school days help? The Education Endowment Foundation, a non-profit group that aims to close the achievement gap between family income and educational attainment through evidence-based research, finds that on average, pupils make two additional months’ progress per year from extended school time or well-designed after-school programs.”

“Research shows there is no magic formula to how many hours of school is best. Formal instruction-time in schools around the world range from 6,054 hours in Hungary to 10,710 hours in Australia … But there are bigger forces at play than number of hours of instruction.”

“Kids in Korea, for example, have a relatively short day, but they then go study so much that the government has to stage 10pm raids on study centers to get kids to go home … In France, kids can go to school early and stay late, until 6:30pm. The US puts in significantly more hours than most, with lackluster performance … the bigger problem is that time spent in school is secondary to the quality of teachers, the quality of the training they get, and how they are treated.”

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