The ‘Moneyballing’ of College Admissions

The New York Times: “Nearly all colleges … make use of two metrics to gauge student quality: cumulative high school grade point average and composite score on the ACT … But research has shown that these metrics are imperfect: They are less predictive of student success than alternative measures that are equally simple to calculate and whose use would lead to a better incoming class.”

“Consider grade point average. Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of doing better later in high school … are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better early in high school … A paper in The Journal of Public Economics … shows that an additional G.P.A. point in 11th grade makes a student 16 percentage points more likely to graduate from college, whereas an additional G.P.A. point in ninth grade makes a student only five percentage points more likely to graduate from college.”

“Something similar is true of ACT composite scores … college admissions offices are giving equal weight to each of the four subtests. But in a 2013 paper … (provides) evidence that the math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the reading and science tests … Colleges may also be reluctant to adopt these more predictive metrics because popular college rankings … use the old metrics in their calculations. Admissions officers may also lack the proper incentives or feedback … Whether or not a student does well in college is not something you can typically determine until a few years after the admissions decision, and thus admissions officers may not feel that they are blamed or rewarded for student success”

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Board Games: How to Tackle the SAT

“To learn about last-minute strategies for students to boost their SAT scores, Business Insider talked to Chris Ryan, an SAT instructor who got a perfect score on the SAT … ‘It’s like the old Clash song, Should I Stay or Should I Go,’ he says. In other words: Are you going to stick with this question and tough it out, or move on?”

“Test-takers must understand their strengths and weaknesses and leverage that information to decide which problems to spend time on and which ones to pass up. To do this, Ryan suggests practicing what he calls ’30 second starters.’ You set a stop watch to count down 30 second intervals and you start different practice questions. This exercise gives students a good idea of which questions come easily and which ones they struggle on.”

“He also stressed that students shouldn’t be scared of skipping the questions they immediately recognize they will struggle on. Test-takers shouldn’t waste time on their “problem” questions, but they should eventually answer all the questions on the exam … Even though there is technically a quarter of a point penalty for wrong answers, it’s always better to answer them all. Test-takers’ instincts are probably better than they think, and the penalty for guessing shouldn’t stress them out, according to Ryan.”

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SAT ‘Subject’ Tests Fall Out of Favor

Boston Globe: “In the past year, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and Williams College all have dropped the SAT subject test requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University, which announced the new policy this spring. Duke University and Vassar College also no longer require the tests, often called SAT II.”

“The shift occurs amid a larger discussion in higher education about the value of standardized testing in admissions. Some colleges, especially less-selective private schools but also such public colleges as UMass Lowell and Salem State, have made the main SAT and ACT tests optional.”

“Although the tests are no longer required at many schools, they are still optional and in many cases recommended, a nuance many college admissions specialists said means students should still take them if they expect to score well … schools like MIT find them useful and have no plans to drop the requirement. MIT officials see the exams as an equalizer, a way to consistently measure students from different high schools. Harvard officials said the same thing.”

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Colleges Must Navigate Sea of Changes

Slate: “In the coming year, we will see changes in standardized testing, use of prior-prior year tax information in applying for financial aid, elimination of colleges’ access to the selected institution list on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the likely expansion of Simplified Needs Testing resulting from Medicaid expansion. These and other factors like demographic shifts, ability to pay, and public support for higher education represent unprecedented changes to the world of college admissions.”

“The wealthiest and most selective will continue on their tried and true paths, and open-access institutions will serve out their missions in the way they always have. But most colleges are working desperately to navigate the changes in a way that is not harmful to them and genuinely benefits students, especially those with the greatest need.”

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‘Grit’ Can Compensate for Low SATs

The Wall Street Journal: “Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith … But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer? Angela Duckworth (author of Grit) argues that the answer is ‘grit,’ which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal.”

“Though verbal fluency did not come easily to (John Irving) as a young man, what he lacked in aptitude he made up for in effort. In school, if his peers allotted one hour to an assignment, he devoted two or three. As a writer, he works very slowly, constantly revising drafts of his novels. ‘In doing something over and over again,’ he has said, ‘something that was never natural becomes almost second nature’.”

“It’s a similar story among the other groups that Ms. Duckworth writes about … including spelling-bee champions and sales associates: Grit predicts their success more robustly than innate ability. And there is no positive correlation between ability and grit. A study of Ivy League undergraduates even showed that the smarter the students were, as measured by SAT scores, the less gritty they were … To be gritty, an individual doesn’t need to have an obsessive infatuation with a goal. Rather, he needs to show ‘consistency over time. The grittiest people have developed long-term goals and are constantly working toward them. ‘Enthusiasm is common,’ she writes. ‘Endurance is rare’.”

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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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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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Quote of the Day: Leon Botstein

“They don’t do anybody any good, not the taker, not the college, and America is obsessed with these tests—the college rankings are partially to blame for this. They’re dumb. They are useless. Doing well on a test has nothing to do with learning and nothing to do with actually being successful in life. It helps you get into college, and you learn absolutely nothing from it.” – Bard College president Leon Botstein on the SAT and ACT.

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The New SAT Is For Students Only

Quartz: “College Board, the organization that runs the SAT, is putting its foot down. When the next test is administered in the US this Saturday (March 5), the only people who will be allowed to sit the exam are college-bound students and those using the score to apply to financial aid programs—no test prep professionals, providers, or counselors.”

“The change, the College Board says, was made to ‘ensure that everyone taking the test is doing so for its intended purpose’— which presumably means preventing nefarious test prep companies from stealing questions and selling them. There’s another explanation. This weekend will be the first administration of the redesigned, potentially bug-ridden SAT,” and the College Board may not want extra exposure for the new test, which has already attracted controversy.

“Banning non-students from the test won’t stop students themselves from cheating, in any case … Perhaps it’s one reason US colleges are increasingly dropping SAT requirements and relying more on measures of applicant quality such as essays, extracurriculars, and special demonstrations of talent.”

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