Category Archives: College Admissions

Timothy Lance Lai: Reading Between the Lines

I know this article was the first I read on the Corona del Mar cheating scandal, because it didn’t mention the private tutor’s name and I was absolutely certain that the name would be Asian.

I wasn’t distracted by the description of the school and local environment. Sure, the school is “located in an extremely wealthy coastal area of Orange County “ and yeah, Corona del Mar is a “seaside enclave of quaint old homes and cliff-top mansions” but all the talk about pressure, plus the coordinated nature of the cheating screamed “Asian” (which, for blog newcomers, is a shortcut to describe first or second generation Chinese, Korean, and Indian immigrants).

So I looked up the school demographics: 9% Asian. Definitely not an “Asian school”. Heavens. I don’t like error.

Then I noticed that Corona del Mar is right next to Irvine. Ah. Irvine’s Asian population has increased 25% in the past decade, and much of that is from new growth. Many recent immigrants, mostly Chinese and Korean (although this article mentions something I’ve noticed as well–in booming Asian towns, the first ones into politics tend to be Vietnamese. No clue why). So the Asians in Newport Beach could be spillover, and if so, were less likely to be long-established families. Not certain, just possible.

Then I found the tutor’s name: Timothy Lance Lai. And his picture:

So I went back to thinking I’m right, because this is a schlub. Rich white people don’t often hire schlubs, of any race. Yes, I am making use of egregious stereotypes, but they can be quite useful when playing percentages. And remember, I tutor (or did, I’ve mostly dropped tutoring this year) rich white kids, so have a fair bit of anecdotal behavior with which to construct my discriminatory profiles.

But perhaps the schlub had compensating factors, something that would compensate for the horrible haircut. I googled around for Timothy Lance Lai and discovered that the guy simply doesn’t exist in the Internet prior to the first cheating reports.

Huh.

If Lai really was a high-end tutor of rich whites, schlub or not, I wouldn’t necessary expect an online footprint about his tutoring services. Rich white kids don’t talk about their tutors almost ever, certainly not online. But I would expect lots of information that told me his background, education, his lamentable preference for Taco Bell, a facebook page, whatever. Google me, for example, and you’ll find plenty of information that reassures and even intrigues your average rich white parent, even though none of it would be about my tutoring services for mostly rich white kids.

If he were a tutor of mostly Asian kids of the cocoon, the ones going to 80% Asian schools, the ones who don’t know white kids can be smart, the ones whose friends also have parents that scream in horror at a B+, then I would expect a website, glowing testimonials, and all sorts of recommendations or naysayers on yelp and College Confidential, because kids yap endlessly online about their tutors, their hagwons, the books they use and so on. Yes, again, egregious stereotyping.

But this guy doesn’t have any online footprint, which means he doesn’t fit the profile of a tutor of either white or Asian kids.

About the only thing reporters could discover was his many traffic violations.

And then he disappeared. Completely. They’ve been looking for the guy since December.

The kids were recommended for “stipulated expulsion”, a form of plea bargain that allows kids to attend other district schools and seals the record. Full expulsion restricts access to all district schools. (PSA: if your kid, god forbid, ever gets in the kind of mess that has administrators mentioning that E word, get a lawyer. District expulsions are routinely overruled by the county or other oversight committee, but only if the student and his parents fight, which isn’t allowed in stipulated expulsions—which is why districts push them. Make them blink. Stare them down. No, I’m not against school expulsions. I’m just pro due process. Change the rules if they’re stupid–and they are.)

Jane Garland, a district official, resigned in protest. The reasons appear fuzzy. Garland, who was in charge of a new “restorative justice” program, seemed to have goofed by brokering an expulsion deal with the parents, then making public statements about the use of restorative justice, which may as well been a neon sign saying “kids got off light”. This led to a small explosion of fury and the district officials immediately canceled aspects of the deal, reassuring the community that no, the kids wouldn’t be allowed to skate, they’d be expelled.

When all the kids were expelled, Garland quit, saying the school was engaged in a coverup, that the kids were all expelled for very different crimes, that the school had known about this for much longer and not done anything. am not sure how true Garland’s charges are, and anyone who works in favor of restorative justice is most likely a flake. But this interests me, given that the reporters are carefully avoiding the mention of race:

In her email, Garland questioned why Scott had removed one student from the list of those being recommended for expulsion. She wrote that the student “was given special treatment.”

When Garland asked Superintendent Frederick Navarro about the student’s removal from the list, he told her that officials “didn’t feel they had enough on him,” Garland wrote.

If all the expelled kids are Asian, and the kid who wasn’t expelled was either white or rich (or both), perhaps Garland was just galled by the willingness to boot the outsiders.

Am I making up the part about race? Just imagining it? When I first found the story, I had stereotypes. Rich whites don’t hire young Asian schlubs, Irvine is a town filled to the gills with recent Chinese, Indian, and Korean immigrants who, as a group, cheat mightily and shamelessly. Very little to go on. I’m happy to speculate, but I wanted more teeny tiny facts to interpret. So I waited.

In mid-March, I found two stories written in mid-February that gave me all sorts of data between the lines. (Incidentally, the LA Times has been less than useless on this story. Score big points for the local papers, The Daily Pilot, Newport Beach Indy, and the Orange County Register.)

“One of the most important lessons he’ll learn”–a piece dripping with sympathy for the students, told via Jane Garland and the mother, name withheld, of an expelled student. The description and conversation with the mother provides more speculation fodder.

First, dead giveaway: “When [the mother] arrived, she was questioned about Timothy Lance Lai. She knew him. He had tutored her son. In fact, he had been to her house the week before. There they had exchanged a few words and she had offered him tea.”

Dingdingding. As a tutor, I go to lots of houses, predominantly white, often Asian (occasionally both). White parents say “Hey, can I offer you something to drink?” and I ask if they have diet coke. Asian parents say, “Would you like some tea?” If they’ve been in the US for a long time, or were born here, they say, “Would you like tea, or water, or a soft drink?” But they do that because I’m white. Asian parent to Asian tutor would almost certainly say “Would you like some tea?””

Second: “She remembered that he would often come home from tutoring sessions with Lai, bragging about the tutor’s intelligence and supposedly well-financed lifestyle.”

She just said he was at her house. Now her son goes elsewhere for sessions? That’s unusual. Tutors either have their own office, meet at the library or, most likely for high school students, meet at their houses. When I say unusual, I mean dishonest. I think the mother is just talking, saying words she thinks will evoke sympathy. Also, notice the kid is bragging about how smart and rich Lai is. Whether the mother is telling the truth or lying, the family in question is not rich and probably not white. White kids of any income level would not be impressed by a tutor’s wealth. Rich white kids, definitely not.

Third: “Still, she paid Lai $45 per hour to tutor her son in Advanced Placement Calculus.”

What? That’s insanely cheap. Rich people would be very skeptical.

Yet in a sympathy piece about the impact of the cold, cruel district on this kid’s life, no mention is made of the mom’s marital status. If she were single or divorced, surely the reporter would point out the triumph of a single mom going it alone, able to afford tutors for her high achieving kid. Even more remarkable, she did all this without working for a living. She’s home when the tutor comes by. She’s apparently home when the school calls.

Yeah. Unlikely. So on second thought, she’s probably not unmarried, not divorced, not a struggling single mom. She’s probably married. But if she’s married, surely the reporter would mention what her husband, the dad, thought of all this.

So whether the mom is married or single, the reporter’s left a huge hole in the story. Which doesn’t make sense, does it?

Takeaways: I’m getting closer and closer to right. At least one of the kids is Asian. The mom’s probably lying. And the reporter is sculpting around something.

The other piece, Missing tutor leaves questions blank at Corona del Mar High, tiptoes close to actually stating reality, rather than just hinting at it.

First hint that many of the parents involved are Asian: “Interviews with families and administrators paint a picture of Lai as someone who learned how to profit from well-intentioned parents who were eager to send their children to the best colleges and had the money to see that happen.”

Notice the parents aren’t mentioned as being connected, as being powerful, as being “rich”, just that they “have money”? Not the same thing. Chinese families have money because the grandparents have only one grandchild. Koreans don’t always have money, but they’ll spend themselves into serious debt. Indians are usually rich, I grant you.

Second, just to prove a point, you know how I said that tutors have footprints? Here are google searches for the tutors mentioned in the article: Clifford Lau, Tutor Genius, Laura Rickhoff, Amanda Rubenstein, Jeffrey Haig

Then: “While Lai taught high-level math and science to dozens of students striving for the Ivy League, he didn’t get his own bachelor’s degree until recently, at age 26, from University of California Irvine. His major: psychology.”

How, exactly, do the authors know that Lai graduated from Irvine? Did they get that from an interview? Did they visit his condo and see a diploma on the wall? Did they confirm it with UCI? I ask because, as mentioned, I exercised my mad Googling skillz to their utmost extent and could find nada damn thing on the guy. Without supporting data, I’d start with the presumption he didn’t graduate from anywhere.

Next, given the story so far, why would they say that Lai “taught” students anything at all?

So the reporters assume that he has a bachelor’s in psych (or verified it without mentioning source), and then hint that such a person wouldn’t be qualified to tutor kids in high level math.

To me, the big neon light isn’t whether or not he’s qualified, but why the parents would hire him without any other signals. You’re thinking yo, Ed, aren’t you an English major who teaches higher level math and history and whatever the hell else kids ask for? Why, yes, as it happens, I bear no small resemblance to Timothy Lance Lai in this respect. (I’m probably a schlub, too.) But when I began tutoring, I was attending a name-brand university getting a master’s degree in a technical subject. I’d been self-employed in technology. I was a parent of a teenaged white boy. I was working for Kaplan as well, which is one of the few companies that can require a high score on an IQ test. Then I went to a really top-tier education school. All sorts of signals. In my experience, the parents check. They don’t do anything as formal as a vetting, but they google me, they ask casual questions, they check with their kids.

I am unfamiliar with parents who let their kids arrange tutors, even though my clients are often the people who go out of town for a weekend and return to find their kids arranged a party, and now one of the girls or her parents have arranged a lawsuit.

So the fact that Lai had a psych degree from a mid-tier UC, coupled with the red flags in the first article, further suggests that the mother’s story is, er, invented.

Oddly, given the circumstances, I could find only one source that mentioned Lai as an “alleged tutor”–Corona Del Mar officials pointedly refer to him as such in their public statements. Reporters, on the other hand, unhesitatingly call him a tutor whilst describing his cheating assistance as “alleged”, whilst oh, my goodness, the poor parents just “welcomed [Lai] into their homes to work with their children without knowing much about him, other than his ability to raise grades. He had become so successful that he had as many as 150 clients.”

I want to be clear that I’m not asserting any of my thinking as fact. More likelihoods and probabilities.

But reading between the lines, I figured the most likely scenario as follows: This guy was not a tutor. He provided a service to the Irvine community of Asian parents (it must be parents, if true), fixing kids grades through a variety of means, but most likely with the er, innovative tech tools. He may or may not have offered the same service to the rich white kids in the community, but if he did so with the knowledge of their parents, I’d be surprised. Timothy Lance Lai is probably living in Hong Kong, paid off by one of the parent clients.

I’ve written before about cheating and Asian immigrants before, but this is new. First, as many news reports have suggested, hacking into a school system is very Matthew Broderick in War Games, an underachieving, over-privileged white boy trick. So hey, cultural crossover!

This certainly isn’t the first hacking scandal a school has faced, and Corona del Mar isn’t the first sign that hacking has expanded beyond its original demographic, although there’s no pattern to the incidents I’ve found. The Winston Churchill High hacking incident was two white kids, but Tesoro High was Asians. This story on Haddonfield Memorial High School doesn’t mention race but does mention one of the kids came back from vacation “deeply tanned”, so I’m going with stereotype and calling it white–they’re also a couple years younger than the juniors and second semester seniors in the other stories, who would be changing their grades for college applications.

The other concerning aspect, whether this habit of stays restricted to Asians or crosses over to ambitious white kids, is the intent of the grade changes. Matthew Broderick changed his grade to a C; he changed Ally Sheedy’s to an A, to impress her. But your average underachieving white teenage boy hacker is trying to get his parents off his back, not create a resume to fool Harvard. I don’t know how prevalent this will get, but I find it worrying that kids have now moved from faking the underlying abilities to just faking the grades.

And can I just say how tedious it is to try and read between the lines? Perhaps I’m imagining all this. But I have to balance my analysis and subject matter knowledge against the likelihood that the media will do its best to obscure race if it doesn’t involve whites. It’s not a close call.


Finding the Bad Old Days

Michael Petrilli wrote an extremely aggravating article suggesting we tell unqualified kids they aren’t ready for college and go to CTE and then a much improved follow up that acknowledges the racial reality of his idea.

In his first piece, Petrilli only mentions race once:

PetrilliCTEquote3

This is a common trope in articles on tracking, a nod to “the bad old days” right after the end of segregation, that time immediately after Brown and ending sometime in the late 70s, or when Jeannie Oakes excoriated the practice in Keeping Track.

In the bad old days, the story goes, evil school districts, eager to keep angry racist white parents from fleeing, sought a means of maintaining segregation despite the Supreme Court decision and the Civil Rights Act. So they pretended to institute ability grouping and curriculum tracks, but in reality, they used race. That way the district could minimize white flight and still pretend to educate the poor and the brown. That’s why so many brown kids were in the low ability classes, and that’s why so many lawsuits happened, because of the evil racist/classist methods of rich whites keeping the little brown people down.

The bad old days are a touchstone for anyone proposing an educational sorting mechanism. So you have Petrilli advocating a return to tracking, who tell us the bad old days are a thing of the past: yeah, we used to track by race and income, pretending to use ability, but we’ve progressed. Districts pretended to use IQ, but they were really using culturally biased tests to commit second-order segregation. Today, we understand that all races and all incomes can achieve. Districts don’t have to distort reality. The bad old days are behind us, and we can group by ability secure that we aren’t discriminating by race.

Before ed school, I accepted the existence of the bad old days, but then I noticed that every reading asserted discrimination but didn’t back it up with data. Since ed school, I’d occasionally randomly google on the point, looking for research that established discriminatory tracking back in the 60s and 70s. And so the Petrilli article got me googling and thinking again. (What, buy books? Pay for research? Cmon, I’m a teacher on a budget. If it’s damning, the web has it.)

I first reviewed Jeannie Oakes, reaffirming that Oakes holds tracking itself, properly applied, as the operative sin. Discriminatory tracking isn’t a main element of Oakes’ argument, although she points out that “some research” suggests it occurred. Oakes’ third assumption, that tracking is largely made on valid decisions (page 4) is accepted at face value. So the grande dame of the anti-tracking movement has completely neglected to mention the bad old days—which, at that time, would have been contemporary.

On I move to Roslyn Mickelson, who does charge Charlotte Mecklenburg schools with discriminatory tracking.

I wasn’t much impressed for a number of reasons–not least of which a big error, which you can see here (lines 8-9):

mickelson5

Not unusual, apparently. In Capacchione v Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Judge Richard Potter eviscerates her expert testimony, finding faults with her credibility, her accuracy, and her logic.

Bottom line, however, Mickelson’s research shows that high achieving scorers in year one are not consistently placed in high achieving classes six years later. While both whites and blacks with high scores end up in low tracks and vice versa, more whites get high placement than blacks. But generally, her data shows something I’ve documented before, that achievement falls off each year because school gets harder.

Both whites and blacks experience the falloff, even though Mickelson seems to think that the pattern should be linear. The achievement scale simply gets larger as kids move up in grade levels, and fewer blacks make the top tier. This is consistent with cognitive realities.

There might be a smoking gun in research. But I couldn’t find it.

Then I suddenly realized duh, what about case law? If districts were tracking by race, there’d be a lawsuit.

I started with three legal articles that discussed tracking case law: 1, 2 and 3. They were all useful, but all failed to mention a significant case in which the district routinely used different standards or sorted directly by race or zip code.

From these articles, I determined that Hobson vs. Hanson was the original tracking case, and that the McNeal standard was for many years (and may still be) the test for ability grouping.

So I created a reading list of cases from the late 60s to the early 90s:

Only two of these cases involved schools directly accused of using race to sort students. In Johnson v. Jackson, the schools were forced to integrate in the middle of a school year. The black kids were ported over to white schools and the classes kept intact. The court ordered them to fix this. From first integration order to the fix order: 4 months.

The second case, Rockford, was decided in the early 90s, and the judge directly accuses the district of intentionally using race to ability group. However, Jeannie Oakes was the expert witness, and the judge drank every bit of Koolaid she had to offer and licked the glass. Oakes is presented as an expert witness, with no mention that she’s an anti-tracking advocate. Her testimony appears to be little more than readings from her book and some data analysis.

The proof of “intentional racism” was pretty weak and largely identical to Mickelson’s described above. Major difference: the judge accepted it.

Leaving aside these two cases, I couldn’t find any case in which the district was found to misuse the results of the test, either by using different racial standards or ignoring the tests entirely. The tests themselves were the issue.

In the south, school systems that weren’t “unitary” (that is, were previously segregated districts) couldn’t use ability testing. Since blacks would have lower scores based on past racial discrimination, the use of tests was discriminatory, an intent to segregate.

For school systems that were found to be unitary, ability testing isn’t in and of itself invalid and racial imbalance isn’t a problem (see Starkville case for example).

In all these cases, I couldn’t find a district that was tracking by race. They were guilty of tracking by test. Everyone knew the tests would reveal that blacks would have lower ability on average, and therefore ability grouping was by definition invalid in previously segregated schools. This was an era in which judges said “The court also finds that a Negro student in a predominantly Negro school gets a formal education inferior to the academic education he would receive, and which white students receive, in a school which is integrated or predominantly white.” (Hobson)

Once the system is declared unitary, or that was never an issue, the record is mixed. When judges did accept the results as valid, they ruled in favor of the school districts (Starkville, Hannon). In Pase v Hannon, the judge actually reviewed the test questions himself and determined they were unbiased with few exceptions, all of which were far above the IQ level in question.

In California, on the other hand, where de jure segregation wasn’t an issue*, the mere existence of racial imbalance was still a problem (Pasadena, Riles). In Riles, Judge Robert Peckham banned all IQ testing of blacks in California for educational purposes. He later extended the ruling even if black parents requested testing, but later withdrew that order. Peckham’s reasoning is much like the other judges who believed in cultural bias:

Even if it is assumed that black children have a 15 percent higher incidence of mild mental retardation than white children, there is still less than a one in a million chance that a color-blind system would have produced this disproportionate enrollment. If it is assumed that black children have a 50 percent greater incidence of this type of mental retardation, there is still less than a one in 100,000 chance that the enrollment could be so skewed towards black children.

Notice the reasoning: of course it’s not possible that blacks have a 50% greater incidence of an IQ below 75. Except it’s worse than that.

This image is from The Bell Curve (borrowed from here) reflecting the frequency of black/white IQ distribution:

BCFreqblkwhiteIQ

As many blacks as whites populate the sub 75 IQ space, but the population distribution being what it is, blacks are far more likely to have low IQs.

When Charles Murray researched this for The Bell Curve:

In the NLSY-79 cohort, 16.8 percent of the black sample scored below 75, using the conversion of AFQT scores reported in the appendix of TBC and applying sample weights. The comparable figure for non-Latino whites was 2.2 percent. In the NLSY-97 cohort, the comparable figures were 13.8 percent for blacks and 2.7 percent for non-Latino whites.

(Charles Murray, personal communication)

So at the time of Peckham’s decision, blacks didn’t have a 50% higher chance of an IQ below 75, but rather a several hundred percent higher chance, a chance that is still in the triple digits today.1 Peckham couldn’t even begin to envision such a possibility, and so no IQ testing for blacks in California.

(As for the lower frequency of blacks in the “trainable” mentally retarded division, as it was called then, an interesting but rarely discussed fact: Low IQ blacks are often higher functioning that low IQ whites. They are less likely to be organically retarded, and more likely to be capable of independent living. This despite the fact that their IQ tests and academic outcomes are identical. Arthur Jensen discovered this phenomenon, and I highly recommend that article; it’s fascinating. I wonder if the difference is somehow related to crystallized vs. fluid intelligence, but haven’t read up enough on it.)

So there it is. Obviously, if I missed a key case in which a major district was found to have deliberately tracked kids by race, please let me know.

But despite extensive efforts, I couldn’t find the bad old days of discriminatory sorting. What I found, instead, was a judicial rejection of IQ and other ability tests, coupled with an inability to conceive of the actual distribution patterns of cognitive ability.

Please understand my limited objective. Many Southern districts did everything they could to avoid integration. See, for example, US v Tunica, where the school tried to assign students based on test scores, but were denied because of the achievement testing ban and required to reassign students and teachers to achieve integration. The teachers refused assignment to integrated schools and resigned, white parents withdrew their kids, then the white schools set up shop at local churches, classes largely intact. Money? Not an issue. They used taxpayer dollars, since the district paid the teachers who resigned and the kids took all their school books with them.

But believe it or not, there’s no mention that the district was only pretending to use test scores, actually assigning students by race. And this is a place where I’d expect to find it. Opposition to integration, absolutely. Achievement testing used as a way to minimize racially mixed classes? Sure.

In many other cases, schools or districts instituted tracking as a genuine attempt to educate a much wider range of abilities, or even had a tracking system in place before integration.

The inconvenient realities of cognitive ability distribution being what they are, the test scores would be depressingly indifferent to intent.

Then there’s the messy middle, the one that Mickelson probably found in Charlotte and Oakes found in Rockford and any one looking at my classrooms would find as well. All tracked classrooms are going to have inconsistencies, whether the schools use tests, teacher recommendations, or student choice. The honors classes fill up or a teacher suddenly dies or all sorts of other unforeseen situations mean some kids get moved around and it’s a safe bet high income parents bitch more about wrong assignments than poor parents. Go through each high score in a “regular” class and each low score in a tracked, and each one of those test scores will have a story—a story usually doesn’t involve race or malign intent. The story occasionally does involve bad teachers or district bureaucracy, but not as often as you might think.

Teacher recommendations are supposed to mitigate the testing achievement gap but teachers are moralists, particularly in math, as I’ve written before. It doesn’t surprise me that new study shows that controlling for performance, blacks are less likely to be assigned to algebra as 8th graders by teacher recommendation. I can’t tell you the number of bright Hispanic and black kids I’ve run into (as well as huge number of white boys, including my son) who don’t bother with homework and have great test scores. So their GPA is 2.7, but their test scores are higher than the kids who got As–and the teacher recommendations.

Parents: some parents insist that their kids need to be in the top group to be challenged. Others feel that their kids do better when they feel secure, able to manage the challenge. Then there are the parents who don’t give a damn about their kids’ abilities but don’t want them in a noisy classroom with kids who don’t give a damn about education. White and Asian parents are disproportionately represented in the first group, black and Hispanic parents take up more than their share in the second, and all parents of all races worry about the last.

So let’s stop using teacher recommendation, stop allowing parents or students to ask for different placement. Test scores are destiny.

But test scores today still reflect the same reality that the judges assumed, back then, could only be caused by racism or bias.

The tests haven’t changed. The kids haven’t changed much.

The judges are another story.

Richard Posner, in a much-quoted 1997 decision on an appeal to the People Who Care v Rockford did what he has done before–made my point with much greater efficiency:

Tracking is a controversial educational policy, although just grouping students by age, something no one questions, is a form of “tracking.” Lawyers and judges are not competent to resolve the controversy. The conceit that they are belongs to a myth of the legal profession’s omnicompetence that was exploded long ago. To abolish tracking is to say to bright kids, whether white or black, that they have to go at a slower pace than they’re capable of; it is to say to the parents of the brighter kids that their children don’t really belong in the public school system; and it is to say to the slower kids, of whatever race, that they may have difficulty keeping up, because the brighter kids may force the pace of the class. …

Tracking might be adopted in order to segregate the races. The well-known correlation between race and academic performance makes tracking, even when implemented in accordance with strictly objective criteria, a pretty effective segregator. If tracking were adopted for this purpose, then enjoining tracking would be a proper as well as the natural remedy for this form of intentional discrimination, at least if there were no compelling evidence that it improves the academic performance of minority children and if the possible benefits to the better students and the social interest in retaining them in the public schools were given little weight. The general view is that tracking does not benefit minority students…although there is evidence that some of them do benefit… All this is neither here nor there. The plaintiffs’ argument is not that the school district adopted tracking way back when in order to segregate the schools. It is that it misused tracking, twisting the criteria to achieve greater segregation than objective tracking alone would have done. The school district should be enjoined from doing this not, on this record, enjoined from tracking.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg case mentioned above cited Posner’s reasoning. The third of my case law articles discusses Holton v Thomasville II, which doesn’t mention Posner but does say that racial imbalance in ability grouping isn’t of itself evidence of discrimination, and points out that the time for judicial interference in educational decisions is probably over:

holtoncase

Most districts ended tracking out of fear of lawsuits. It may be time for parents to demand more honors classes, test the limits.

So what does this have to do with Petrilli? Well, less than it once did, now that Petrilli has acknowledged the profound racial implications of his suggestion.

But if the bad old days of racial tracking never really existed, then Petrilli can’t pretend things will be better. Yes, we must stop devaluing college degrees, stop fooling kids who have interest but no ability in taking on massive loans that they can never pay off. And with luck even Petrilli will eventually realize as well that we have to stop forcing kids with neither interest nor ability to sit in four years of “college preparation” courses feeling useless.

So what comes next? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

*************************
*Commenter Mark Roulo points out that California did commit de jure segregation against Hispanics and was ordered to stop in Mendez v. Westminster. See comments for my response.

1See Steve Sailer’s comment for why black IQs might have been biased against lower IQ blacks and the 97 data more representative.


SAT’s Competitive Advantage

Asians taking the SAT: 196,030 out of 1,640,047, or about 11.9%.
(No response: 62,603)

Asians taking the ACT: 71,677 out of 1,799,243, or about 3.9%
(No response: 110, 305)

I can’t tell if these numbers are US-based only, or including overseas testers. The ACT has a small international market. The SAT dominates, particularly in the Asian countries. 50,000 Chinese visit a Hong Kong testing site in just one year. While I couldn’t find totals for Korea, 900 students got their scores cancelled in 2007, clearly just a fraction of the total testers. In India, the College Board has 32 test centers (up from 20 just four years ago), the ACT has 60 testers.

So if the ratio above, in the tests’ national reports, are indeed just for the US, then the overall Asian preference is even greater than the 2.75:1 brand preference for Asian American testing. Since I can’t find any verification of this, let’s assume the ratio is overall preference.

In either case, the numbers are stark. The SAT is already losing out to the ACT. Why would it make changes that, if accurately described, would make the test less attractive to Asians, who have largely rejected the ACT?

Before I get to that: outside of the knowledgeable education reporters, the coverage has been nonsense. Contrast this relatively solid piece by NYTimes reporter Tamar Lewin, (whose twitter tagline should be “not half as ignorant and less than a quarter as irritating as Motoko Rich”) with this obsequious David Coleman profile by author Todd Balf. Discussing his work, Balf described the “checks” that restrain the College Board from using its power, :

Either Coleman does something about [the dissatisfaction with the SAT], or at the college level more and more schools will go test optional. Coleman wouldn’t say that the reforms are in response to places like Wake Forest, but it is hard to ignore.

Sigh. A few thousand colleges or university systems use the SAT as a first round placement test: University of Georgia, University of California, University of Michigan, University of Nevada, University of Wisconsin, a whole bunch of community college systems, and oh, yeah, the largest university system in the country. Any number of private universities do, as well, including Baylor, Columbia, and Duke.

So the SAT and ACT allow many schools to avoid the hassle and expense of placing hundreds of thousands of students each year.

But yeah, the College Board is all worked up about Wake Forest going exam optional.

People who try to prognosticate the changes are mostly being silly. I like Peter Wood, but his rant here doesn’t add up. Like most non-experts, Wood completely ignores the existence of the ACT, which has the same “biases” that Wood thinks the SAT is trying to fix. The College Board can’t “dumb down” the test. If blacks suddenly started scoring at the 80th percentile on the SAT, but were still scoring at the 35th on the ACT, people would notice.

So leaving aside what people who don’t really understand things think, and leaving my random thoughts about certain changes for another day, and then pointing out that I liked this analysis by Eduwonk, not usually a favorite of mine, my big question is still why would the College Board deliberately screw over Asians, the customer base with the strongest preference for its product?

The Chinese test prep companies are less than thrilled about the changes, which they believe will prevent them from teaching students to game the test . I am asserting this as fact: many Chinese international students openly acknowledge they don’t have the underlying ability their SAT scores denote.

Not much outrage from the Koreans, but then they just buy early versions of the test and distribute it to paying customers. Obviously, this method works regardless of underlying test modifications. Cheating is so rampant in South Korea that again, I am asserting as fact that many of these testers lack the underlying knowledge that their SAT scores supposedly indicate.

I doubt either country is exclusive in its approach. Presumably, the Chinese cheat and the Koreans game.

Indians seem cautiously optimistic—hey, they mostly do speak English, right?

I consider the SAT changes completely irrelevant. The interesting question to me is, assuming no one changes their behavior, how will this all play out?

The one thing I feel pretty confident of: faith in Coleman is wholly unjustified. Leaving aside the value of his Common Core work, note the lack of follow-through. Typical consultant, he jumped in long enough to tell people what to do, then left before all the errors in his ideas are revealed through disastrous implementation results.

In the same way, Coleman’s never run a major business, and has no idea about the political realities of helming the most visible, if not the most popular, college admissions and placement test. He has a story, but no plan. Meanwhile, boy, he’s happy to diss the test his predecessors pushed—and he makes free with insulting his competitor, too.

But for all Coleman trashes his predecessor, Gaspard Caperton, the ex-Appalachian governor has big shoes that I very much doubt Coleman can fill. Complain all you like about the writing section, it was pure genius as a business decision. On Caperton’s watch, the College Board dumbed down an existing test that a couple hundred thousand kids took, made it cheaper to grade, and forced a million kids to pay a higher price to take it as part of the “new” SAT, even though lots of colleges don’t use the section score—and let everyone think that the UC forced the change. The company made millions in a single year. At his behest, the College Board abandoned the claim that test prep doesn’t work, and sold its own product, which had to be taken off the Amazon bestseller list because everyone found it too upsetting. And that’s just the SAT’s profit center. Caperton also presided over the Advanced Placement’s stunning growth, achieved by taxpayers shoveling money into the CB’s coffers for entirely unqualified kids to take tests in order that Jay Mathews put their school on his Index.

In contrast, Coleman has just made the essay optional and harder to grade, ordered a complete redesign of the test with a stable competitor ready and willing to pick up the doubters, and pissed off his most dedicated customer segment. I wouldn’t be surprised if he declared that his purer company won’t profit from the filthy lucre of test prep, having turned that function over to Khan Academy (which long before its College Board arrangement has neglected to provide free services for the ACT). God knows what Coleman has planned for the AP suite.

Coleman could have some grand plan that I can’t anticipate (other than, as Steve Sailer puts it, all students should Be Like Me.) But reasonable people can and should wonder if he is wholly ignorant of the SAT’s market position, or if he actually believes that his Common Core curriculum is going to increase student ability and end the achievement gap. From there, it’s easy to postulate a scenario in which the College Board spends a fortune redesigning the test in a vacuum, not discovering until field tests that the changes either widen or narrow the achievement gap unforgiveably. Worse still, what if they make the test too hard? All of these possible outcomes wouldsend testers and their parents running into the arms of the Midwestern Mama, all safety and security.

In such an event, I trust the remainder of the College Board regroups before rollout. That’s been done before: the 2005 essay was originally supposed to be 50% of the writing score, but worrisome field tests led to the essay getting just a third of the section weight. A complete backout, cancel, reset is not impossible. The ETS cancelled its first set of GRE changes, despite a significant investment. Like the ETS, the College Board has a known quantity of a test to fall back on—just fire Coleman and move on.

I find that outcome very possible. But suppose that the SAT redesign works as promised. The achievement gap remains intact, the test is as described, the scores among American students are roughly compatible with the old SAT and the current ACT.

So then back to the big question: why, exactly, are Asians favoring the current SAT so strongly, and what will they do in the face of an altered test? The usual reason offered for their brand loyalty is the Asians aren’t aware of the ACT.

They figure out to game the SAT, they buy advanced copies of the SAT so their kids can cheat, they’re aware of and concerned about SAT changes, but somehow they’ve never heard of the SAT’s competition. Yeah. Not buying.

That leaves a few possibilities. First, the Asian test prep companies just don’t see the point in spending the money and time cracking a second test given their certainty on the first. Second, they haven’t actually cracked the test, aren’t really gaming it, but in fact are all using the Korean method of buying the test. All the coverage on the gaming is just sham. So they either can’t or haven’t yet paid to achieve the same penetration of the ACT’s secrets.

Third, and this is the fun one, they’ve tried cracking the ACT and can’t.

Eighteen months ago, I thought the possibility that Asians were artificially inflating their scores was theoretically possible, but unlikely. Over the next year, my experiences and additional research has changed my view. I now think it likely that both here and overseas, a decent percentage of Asian testers are either cheating or gaming the SAT and AP tests—-or both. I’ve written up some of this but not all, and I’m not expecting anyone to just take my word for it.

But when I start from that premise, and look at the SAT as a test that can be gamed, I see loads of potential.

Naturally, a purchased test is still the best guarantee—certainty being so much more reliable—but Big Data could identify many patterns. A few years back, you could see open discussion of an LA based test prep company with a largely Asian clientele that promised a reduced (300 or fewer words) vocabulary list, that was supposedly built by on analyzing previous tests and predicting a rotation cycle for the words. Or maybe they just had an in at the College Board, as the comment suggests.

Maybe they’ve analyzed each type of reading comprehension question and noticed a pattern beyond “pick C”, but rather a particular type of wording that is associated with a correct answer. This is something all bright people can do, of course, but it’s hard to teach as a system without mountains of data. The SAT’s grammar questions have all sorts of patterns that could likewise be broken down and systematized. Obviously, they’ve collected the essay prompts and found certain theme patterns that they use to teach kids to memorize essays verbatim. It goes without saying that the students didn’t write the essays. Or maybe they just had prior knowledge.

But assume, for the moment, that it was gaming, not cheating. I’m not an expert on Big Data or psychometrics, but I’m knowledgeable about both the SAT and the ACT, and the latter doesn’t lend itself to that sort of patterning. English, Reading, and Science test on passages with aggressive time requirements. While their questions do have patterns, the patterns are heavily reliant on context. You have to understand the text at least slightly in order to find the correct answer for the particular type of question. At least, that’s how it seems to me. (But then, I looked at the memorization necessary to game the SAT and thought it unlikely, so what do I know?)

Imagine that College Board successfully screws over the barely-English-speaking Asian market with their new test. Suppose also that both companies are ethical and no one is selling advance data on the test (which, in fact, I do assume). Suppose, in other words, that Asians with extremely limited English skills, here and abroad, are no longer able to misrepresent their abilities with SAT tests.

Is that really what colleges want?

Balf’s right about one thing–the colleges are the ultimate test customer. Public universities have dramatically increased their foreign admits, most of them Chinese, because they can charge them out of state fees for all four years.

They admit these students already knowing that the Chinese applications are largely fraudulent, and are well aware of the gaming and cheating, since they end up with students who can’t speak English and cheat here, too.

All this knowledge hasn’t slowed down their Asian international student admission.

Does this sound like a customer base that really wants to lock out non-English speaking Asians?

No matter which of these scenarios play out, I don’t see how the ACT doesn’t benefit. Why would any student opt for a complete unknown when they can prepare for the ACT using test prep materials and experts who’ve been working with the same test for years? I expect test prep companies to step up their offerings. If they don’t, then I throw up my hands and declare confusion.

This all strikes me as considerably more relevant than pipe dreams about the end of test prep, much less the achievement gap. And much more interesting.


Painting Pictures

I quit my second job for a while, but got sucked back in by an importunate boss. He did move me out of PSAT/Book Club and into straight Book Club, for 7th-8th graders, which is a nice switch, except it’s in the afternoons and kills my Saturdays. But oh, the kids. Who are, in case you’re a new reader, first or second generation Chinese, Korean, Indian, and the occasional Vietnamese.

First day, a month ago, I face four eighth grade boys (one Chinese, three Korean), and I’m going into the usual spiel:

“The thing is, this class is about becoming readers, writers, and thinkers, not about getting a good grade. What do you want from this class? Francis?”

Francis just looks at me, wide-eyed and quiet. I am supposed to get the hint and move on. I wait. And wait. And wait some more. Francis realizes, to his horror, that I’m not going to move on. It is unholy how much I enjoy doing this, time and again. An unlooked for joy of teaching.

“Um. What was the…oh. Um. I want to get better grades.”

“You don’t get straight As?”

“Well. Yeah.”

“You just want more A pluses?”

Pause.

“My mom wants me to come.”

“It’s always the mom, isn’t it? Bruce, what about you?”

Bruce is a Korean version of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, bright-eyed and chirpy.

“My mom wants me to come, too. But I would like to learn to write better. Not grammar.” He pauses, not sure how to say it. “Better. Like, with good vocabulary.”

“That’s a good objective. Arthur?”

Arthur would be a nerd, except no one around him would notice. It’s Saturday afternoon and I like to think that he took off the tie his outfit was missing the minute he was out of his mother’s view.

“I actually wanted to come. I need to develop a better writing style and take advantage of my vocabulary.”

“You want to get it drunk first? Kidding. Dino? What’s your pleasure–better grades, words you can love and leave, a chance to watch TV?”

Dino is slouched down, a shock of unruly hair pulled down over his eyes. “Not grades. I don’t care about grades.”

The other three boys literally gape at this anathema. “You don’t care about grades?” gasps Bruce.

“Look. We’re eighth-graders. None of this counts. I try to have fun. Read some books.” He looks at me. “I want to read deeper, find context and meaning. My teachers talk about analyzing literature, but when they analyze it I never agree with them. I want more ammunition.”

Huh. “I guess you didn’t get the memo?”

He’s quick. “Like ‘Rules and Regulations for Asians?'”

“Instead you read a pamphlet on the Beat movement.”

“What’s that?”

“Read up.”

Last week, that same boss begged me to cover two SAT writing classes in addition to Book Club, and although I was sick, I am nice. The class had already met for math so were in the room when I walked in. While I was doing my standard I’m a long time teacher here but don’t usually teach SAT spiel, I suddenly did a double take.

“Good lord, who let you in? Blond guy.”

The white kid slumped unhappily in the back eyed me cautiously. I seemed to be looking at him, but what could I mean? He looks to the left, then the right, then points to himself in query.

“Yeah, you. It’s Saturday morning. White kids are still asleep. And here you are. You don’t look half Asian, but I’ve been fooled before.”

The entire class is now unsure whether to gasp in horror or laugh.

“I think it’s your fault I’m here.”

“Mine?”

“Yeah, a friend of mine went here last summer and his mom raved about the great teacher.”

“I”m flattered, but I don’t teach SAT.”

“That’s what I said! He went to PSAT class! But my mom made me come.”

“That’s what you get for having Asian friends.”

“I’m not blond, though.”

“Ash blond. Plus, look at the room, buddy. You’re blond.”

Now they’re laughing.

“You can’t tell half Asians?” a Chinese kid asked.

“Sometimes. But then a couple summers ago, I had this kid with blond hair. Not dyed blond, punky blond, but just normal blond hair. Blonder than this guy’s. He said he was half Korean, I said wow, he didn’t look it. He smiled, used both his hands to pull his hair away from his head and I fell out of my chair. His face was totally Korean! You know, slightly round, the eyes had the full epicanthic fold. But his hair was white people blond, and my brain just insisted his face was Caucasian until he pulled his hair back.”

“Oh, I know someone like that!” said an Indian girl.

“Hair color is white people’s. We own that trait. So much ours that I looked at a Korean face and ignored reality until the hair was gone. Hey, wait.” I suddenly stopped cold.

“You. Behind blond guy. You’re not Indian.” The kid shook his head, laughing, knowing what’s coming.

“You’re BLACK. Like, African American black! Jesus, there’s like, maybe eight of you in a ten mile radius from this spot. Where do you go to school?”

Black kid is enjoying this, names a very wealthy public school.

“Oh, well. You’re used to being one of three? Two? Just you? I know Blond Guy has to suffer through being the one no one wants on group projects–white guys never do homework–but you, you’re such a novelty they probably fight over you.”

The kids were now howling.

“My god. A white kid AND a black kid in this establishment deep in the heart of Little Asia. Cats and dogs sleeping together.”

And I started the class which I like to think lived up to the icebreaker.

********************************************************************

So my last essay got a lot of attention, and I’m happy about that. I’m even happier that most readers took it as I intended.

But some didn’t, and by “some”, I don’t mean the various ethno-nationalists groups, nor do I mean the Stormfront and other vaguely or overtly anti-Semitic sites who liked the piece. They understood what I was saying, even if I disagree with where they took it next. I allow almost all comments, and allowance should not be construed as agreement.

No, I mean the people who said I “claimed” that all Asians were cheating, or that I didn’t “prove” that Asians weren’t living up to their resumes, or that white people cheat, too.

I am exactly the opposite of a scientist. I like facts fine. But proof is boring. It’s always so small. I like probabilities. And not calculating them, that’s boring, too. I like seeing things, reading about things, and thinking about what they mean. Then I start to anticipate. If A, which I’m reading about, is happening, then isn’t B happening, too? Let’s see what Google says. Damn, Google agrees with me! And I google, search, and keep reading, find ten other things that tie in, or are just interesting tidbits for later.

A good chunk of this blog is dedicated to describing and explaining the reality I see as an older but new teacher, as a math teacher, as a test prep instructor, as a white teacher who lives in a heavily Asian community and teaches many recent Asian immigrants. I paint a picture, and in many cases, people who work in the same reality say yeah, that’s an accurate picture. Others who aren’t familiar with the reality often find it an interesting and credible picture; still others say wow, you just took a kaleidoscope I was trying to figure out and made it clearer. All good. It’s rare that people say hey, that’s just not how reality looks and when they do, they are math teachers, and that’s religion.

But proof? It’s just a picture. Accept it, don’t accept it. Challenge it. Give data that directly contradicts it. I’m happy to realize that I’m missing a piece of the picture, or even misreading it entirely. Just quit whining that I haven’t proved it. Enough people clearly agree with the picture that I haven’t invented it out of whole cloth, and I’m not asserting anything beyond the picture. I give data to show it’s not one-off. Take it or leave it.

Over the past decade the open discrimination against Asians in college admissions has risen to the level of public notice. Many people hear the news and think, “We need to catch up! We need to make our kids more like Asian kids!” This, more than anything, is what I hope to—if not correct, then at least compensate for. Because no, we do not want to make our American kids—white, black, Hispanic, or Asian—like the kids who are, through “hard work, dedication, and cultural expectations” churning out 4.5 GPAs and taking 10-12 AP courses. Those kids are achieving those intellectual goals using methods we don’t value (and I mean more than just cheating), and they are not, in far too many cases, attaining the intellectual base that we in America assume comes along with that resume.

I can’t prove this. What I can do is show readers what problems arise from educating this population (again, recent Asian immigrants or their kids), and let them think about how that plays out in college admissions.

Our educational system needs improvement, and one of the areas that most dramatically needs improvement is our education and development of bright kids. I suspect, but can’t prove, that our failure in this respect is what allows the Asian “swot” method to dominate without actually learning all that much. What we need to do is track, is ensure that our top kids are getting a challenging education that doesn’t just allow them to regurgitate, but think creatively, intuitively, and engage their intellects. We used to do that, but our determination to pretend cognitive ability doesn’t exist has seriously damaged this area of education—both in high school and college.

Until we decide to fix this, however, the answer lies not in making American kids more Asian, but in making Asian immigrants—indeed, all immigrants—more American.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I love all my students. I teach this second job, and let my boss talk me back into it even though I’d like the time off, because I particularly love these kids, these recent Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indian immigrants who don’t all look alike and don’t all think alike, but who far too often dutifully obey their parents and live under extraordinary pressure to succeed. I want them to be more than the hardworking stereotype, to learn to ask why, to ask questions beyond “will this be on the test” and form the occasional opinion. And towards that end, I’ll be doing my best to convince my Asian students to win more concessions for their time in Saturday school, defy their parents on a daily basis, watch more TV, watch way more movies, tell their moms to get a job if they have nothing better to do than nag them, and skip their homework entirely a couple days a week.


Asian Immigrants and What No One Mentions Aloud

To continue my thoughts on college admissions and Asians:

Many people, reading of the clear discrimination against Asians, become all righteous, thinking of those poor, hardworking Asians. Come to America, work hard, and look how the system screws them.

But that reaction ignores the stereotype.

The stereotype, delicately put: first and second generation Chinese, Korean, and Indian Americans, as well as nationals from these countries, often fail to embody the sterling academic credentials they include with their applications, and do not live up to the expectations these universities have for top tier students.

Less delicately put: They cheat. And when they don’t cheat, they game tests in a way utterly incomprehensible to the Western mind, leading to test scores with absolutely zero link to underlying ability. Or both. Or maybe it’s all cheating, and we just don’t know it. Either way, the resumes are functional fraud.

Is it true for every single recent Chinese, Korean, or Indian immigrant? Of course not. I know far more recent Asian immigrants than most people, a fair number of whom effortlessly exceed their academic records, with style points to boot. That doesn’t make the stereotype any less relevant. Or less accurate, as stereotypes go.

There are two aspects to this story. First is the behavior of recent Asian immigrants who live in America. That part is largely anecdotal, because reporters are, as always, reluctant to be specific about race. Second, the behavior of Asians back in their native countries. Here, reporters are happy to describe behavior in great detail, because hey, it’s not race, it’s culture. Moreover, colleges have done a reasonable amount of research documenting the prevalence of cheating and “cultural differences” in Asian immigrant college students.

This piece will focus on recent Asian immigrants and cheating. I have been working on various aspects of Asians and college admissions for over six weeks now, and tried to figure out the best way to organize the chunks. Nothing ever seemed completely right, and I’ve got some several thousand words in addition to this one that may take me months to organize. I hope at some point to put together a piece on Asian nationals and cheating, but the one that’s hardest of all is the second part of the stereotype, the one that says okay, so they don’t always cheat—maybe—but even if they don’t, their test scores don’t match what we consider reality.

I will include a number of reported stories that back up my own experiences, as well as excerpt from School of Dreams, by Edward Humes, the story of a few years at Whitney High, a selective California public high school that is almost entirely Asian (as early as 1987, it was 45% Asian). Note again that this behavior is of recent Asian immigrants, kids who either came here very young or were born to recent immigrants. Humes’ book specifices this, and the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article also specifies that the troubles are with recent immigrants.

And so, cheating.

Cheating is a big problem in American high schools, and doom and gloom stories like this emphasize that high-achiever cheating is on the rise. Well, Asian immigration is on the rise, too, and Asian schoolkids are a huge percentage of high achieving kids. Is there any correlation, or is it rude to ask?

Teachers will tell you that high achiever cheating has a distinctly demographic tilt, which you can find in the stories if you look for it. Scratch the surface of any cheating story and odds are well above average the school or the class in question is disproportionately Asian. Journalists carefully scrub cheating stories of any racial references—unless it’s rich whites. In fact, it’s obvious that the SAT scandal was first thought to be “white” kids, which is why the reports contained names. Then it turned out they are mostly Iranian Jews, first or second generation immigrant. Oops. Which is not to say that impersonation is the typical cheating profile for Eastern and Southern Asians. (Cheating by high ability black and Hispanic students is virtually unknown, both in my own experience and a complete dearth of reported stories. The major cheating scandals involving black and Hispanic students is done on behalf of the lowest performers, usually by teachers, usually being ordered to do so by administrators.)

Researchers categorize cheating in three ways: impersonation, collaboration, and prior knowledge.

First, and least likely for Asians in this country, is impersonation, the method used by the Great Neck SAT scandal and the Clarence Mumford case. Cheaters need lots of money, an imposter who can guarantee results, and an anonymous setting. The Mumford case was so extensive, I think, because teacher testing is anonymous and a passing score, as opposed to a high score, was the only thing needed. That, coupled with a whole bunch of existing teachers who couldn’t pass the test. While impersonation is common in China and India, the ETS/College Board spot maybe 200 cases of impersonation a year in the US—at least, they only admit to that many. According to this story, impersonation used to be an issue among college athletes, which makes sense (and would therefore involve low-ability blacks more than Asians).

Next formal cheating category is “collaboration”, which means that students engaged in the work—test usually, homework almost always—are getting answers from other students also doing the work at that time. We don’t call this “copying” anymore, because getting answers almost always involves the consent and, well, collaboration of the person who has the answers.

Collaboration stories that hit the news usually involve Advanced Placement tests. “Chaos cheating”, as I call it, is nicely illustrated by the Mills High School story, in which the entire school’s AP scores were invalidated. While the first article only mentions one student with an Asian name, the student site protesting the decision has each student signing in by name, and the names are so Asian it’s funny, making it almost unnecessary to confirm that Mills is 60% Asian. The followup story has a revealing picture , and try playing “spot the white kid” with this video on the story.

Chaos cheating starts with a school screwup. The school doesn’t enforce security, sits the kids too close together, in circles or facing each other, directly against the rules. I know: what the hell does that have to do with the kids? They aren’t arranging this. At best, some kids are taking advantage of something that they had no control over.

Except.

From 2008 to 2013, I taught an AP US History survey course at two different SAT academies, for kids from around 20 schools, most of them 50% or higher Asian. I’ve been hearing from my APUSH students about exactly this scenario. I dismissed the first tale, thinking it absurd—any teacher knows how to proctor, particularly at the school in question, which had a long history of AP testing. Then I heard the story several more times from different kids, different schools, different review classes, always involving “Asian” schools or a heavily Asian testing population. I checked it against my white tutoring students, from a wide range of high schools, and the only ones who know of it also went to “Asian” schools. My Asian middle school students don’t know of it. The few Asian students I found who’d never seen it attended majority white or majority Hispanic schools—and they knew exactly what I was talking about, but told me that “wouldn’t fly” at their school.

The kids who know of it tell me some variation of this: the testers rush into the room as chaotically as possible, pull chairs close together, sit next to a buddy, whine like crazy when the proctor tries to impose seating order. The proctor sighs, exhorts them not to cheat, and pretty much turns over control of the class to the students. At that point, the kids can quietly discuss answers, text a buddy for help, and basically “collaborate” in any way needed.

Now, any decent, experienced proctor would never allow this. And yet, the “chaos cheating” stories that make the news all involve schools with a long history of high-achieving students taking all sorts of AP tests. The lax administration simply doesn’t make sense. But several major cheating stories of this nature on the AP have made the news in the past five or six years, in addition to the recent Mills High School story above. Here it is occurring at Skyline High School in Oakland, a majority minority school whose 22% Asian population likely comprises the bulk of the AP testers. Skyline’s cheating was limited to specific students, although it’s clear that the cheating couldn’t have occurred without incompetent or compliant proctors.

Another cheating scandal that involved both chaos cheating and texting occurred in Orange County, in which students were “allowed to talk, consult study aids, send text messages to friends and leave the room in groups during the exam” and we are supposed to believe that this was due to inexperienced proctoring in a high-achieving school in a wealthy district. I originally thought it was a primarily white student body. But back in 2008, Trebuco High freshmen through juniors were about 9% Asian, and CST scores reveal them to be a high achieving bunch. So about 150 Asians were juniors and seniors, figure perhaps a third of the AP testers were Asian. That’s plenty to create a chaos cheating situation. Ten students acknowledged cheating by texting, race omitted.

(AP Stats is a common cheating test. I mentioned this to a colleague, a third generation Japanese American, and he snorted, “Of course. That’s the math test for Asians who aren’t good at math.” and I suspect that this is, in fact, a good bit of the reason.)

The Mills students tried to sue. While the effort failed, the decision includes detailed descriptions of Mills, Skyline, and Trebuco testing procedures. It’s very hard to believe that Mills and Trebuco, in particular, were so blatantly incompetent.

I found one example involving the SAT, with the same seating violations and inattentive proctoring at a private school in Brooklyn, which surely should know better. When I first found Packer Collegiate Institute, I also intended to use it as a counterexample, of a case when chaos cheating involved a primarily white population, since the school is only 7% Asian. And it may–except the population is for K-12, and there’s no way to determine what age the Asians are. Are they all kindergartners? All high schoolers? Please note this article on Packer’s growing profile and resulting identity changes, paying particular attention to the increased competition, increased emphasis on college admissions, and changed atmosphere. The article doesn’t say “Asian student population has increased”, but given the school is in Brooklyn, which has seen a tremendous increase in Asian population, I do wonder what percentage of the testers are Asian.

We move from AP tests to every day classes and those ruthlessly consistent straight As that comprise a good bit of the Asian academic dominance, and there, teachers and students both can tell you all about the cheating. Collaborative cheating also includes splitting up homework assignments and texting answers on in-school tests and quizzes. All but one of the schools mentioned in that story are heavily Asian (Piedmont is not). I wrote part of this article at a pizza parlor in the late afternoon, packed full of students from one of the local high schools (80% Asian), openly “collaborating” on homework in late August. And I don’t mean “what’s the answer to question 9″ but “we’re doing the front page, can you guys take the back side?” and then everyone switches answers. When you hear of Asian kids talking about all the hours they spend on homework, take it with a lot of salt. School of Dreams backs up the collaborative cheating on tests and the wasted time on homework.

The third category of cheating is “prior knowledge”—students are aware of the specific content of the test before taking it. Again, prior knowledge cheating occurs in every day classes as a way to get As on tests, as well as national tests. Students take advantage of prior knowledge in school by breaking in or in some other way obtaining the tests ahead of time. Students caught in the widespread cheating scandal at Stuyvesant High had both provided answers for their strong tests and received them for their weak tests—and this NY Magazine article makes it clear that cheating at New York City’s top high school is endemic and common. Notice that none of the schools mention the dominant race of the students involved, but the hints are there and all but one of the example schools are over 40% Asian. The North Carolina school, Panther Creek High School, is only 16% Asian, but it’s in a highly educated area, the students involved were all top-tier, and did you notice the mention of parental pressure? Dead giveaway. Some kids use the TA gig—TA for a teacher, get copies of the tests ahead of time (or in some cases change the grades) and either trade or sell.

Then there’s the national high stakes prior knowledge cheating scandals, in which the parties get the actual test information, sometimes from the Korean hagwons who pay testers to take pictures of the test, sometimes from principal whose brother works at a SAT academy that clearly has a large Asian clientele. (Wait–Asian schools in Plano, Texas? No way. Way: 32% Asian. Yeah, surprised me, too.)

(I’ve been talking about my work for a few months, and a friend just came back from taking her acupuncture board tests, shocked. She noticed all the “Asian testers” (no idea what countries) were disappearing into a large conference room, so she meandered down that way and discovered that they were all in a room with rows of laptops, typing ferociously. They weren’t studying. They were entering the questions for later testers.)

Whitney High School’s admission test was, and probably is, highly vulnerable to prior knowledge cheating. Back in the 90s, a test prep company bought a copy of the custom test from McGraw Hill, who created the test. Then later problems occurred with the essay portion. Cheating was so rampant that Whitney now uses CST scores and an essay—and of course, a private tutoring company, one started by an Asian (Brian Tom), and been around for 30 years (you gotta wonder, at least I do, if it was involved in the earlier shenanigans) is happy to tutor kids on the essay and the CST—that is, the California state tests.

In writing this piece, I have steeped myself in cheating articles, and this discovery of CST tutoring still caught me by surprise. White kids also don’t really care about their low-stakes state test scores, whereas Asian kids can tell me exactly what their last state test results were, because their parents get quite annoyed if they aren’t Advanced in every subject. And for that reason, I can’t dismiss the possibility that Asian kids are cheating on their state tests, too. Given that many state tests are given over a six or eight week period, I very much wonder if the tutoring companies aren’t buying copies or pictures of tests off of willing administrators.

Two actual data points to consider: in my first article, I mentioned the increased number of Asians getting high verbal scores on the SAT, during a period when far more recent Asian immigrants and nationals are taking the test. I find this….unlikely, and the fact that it hasn’t been investigated is pretty stunning. I also find it odd that far fewer Asians take the ACT (69,000 in 2012) than take the SAT (192,500 in the same year), when the ACT is taken by more students. Both are suggestive of cheating patterns—although they may also simply reflect the fact that SAT “academies” are better versed in gaming the SAT.

Go to any Asian school and ask the teachers. Ask the kids. And when the kids complain that gosh, everyone thinks we all cheat, ask them why. I do, and the kids always look shamefaced.

As if this whole story weren’t troubling enough, it seems a great deal of the cheating is facilitated by the schools, which are run primarily by white people. It’s not the kids who are arranging the weak proctors, who fold when the kids protest at changing seats. It’s not the kids who are refusing to expel students who’ve cheated on tests. So why is that happening? (Interestingly, the white male Stuyvesant principal was replaced, as a result of the cheating scandal, by an Asian female principal.)

I wonder about payoffs. Given its prevalence in China, Korea, and India and given the cheating history I’ve just outlined, it’s hard not to wonder if the practice isn’t continuing. The parents certainly aren’t in any hurry to assimilate; they view American kids as negative influences. (and when the Asians in question say “American”, they mean “whites”, as in this pretty horrifying tale of the fraud in Chinese English teaching industry.)

However, there’s also something that I don’t see reported much, but is common knowledge among teachers in Asian schools: many of the parents, who are recent immigrants, are ruthlessly and endlessly demanding. (This story focuses on Japanese parents in their native country, but remember, I’m talking about recent immigrants.) I know teachers who have quit Asian schools because of the 100 or more emails they get daily, demanding that grades be changed reconsidered. I can easily envision a proctor fearing the mountain of crap poured on his head if he held the line and forced kids to change seats, so instead just shrugs and hopes for the best. I’m not excusing it. But I can see it.

So is the cheating enabled by payoffs or fear? Beats me. Is this cheating just as prevalent among high-achieving whites and long-established Asian Americans? Not in my experience, which is not to say that these kids don’t cheat at all. But really rich kids usually have parents who buy their way in, and upper income “American” (and here, I mean all races) kids do not, as a rule, feel the same type of pressure that the recent Asian immigrant kids feel from their parents. Wouldn’t it be cool if reporters actually investigated, though?

As the universities know, these same kids go off to college and cheat some more.

I am not excusing their discrimination. I am attempting to explain it. Some version of this next occurs:

The universities look at the resumes of all Asian kids—recent immigrants, long-established natives, nationals—and know that many of them are fraudulent. They know that many of the kids they accept will not be able to function on their campus, whereas others will be able to get great grades so long as they cheat. They know that many of the students don’t have the inquisitive mind, genuine interest in intellectual pursuits that universities like to see in students (or pretend they do). But the universities want the great, if often fraudulent, stats to puff up their numbers for the rankings systems, to offset the athlete, the legacies (for privates), and the Kashawn Campbells (for publics). And so they try to minimize it, while still getting what they want—an improved profile, out of state fees for four years, instead of just one, while not overloading the campus with too many Asians.

That’s disgusting. But if that’s not bad enough—and it is—here’s the thing: the cheating I describe perpetuates two frauds. The first, of course, benefits the cheaters and their schools at both high school and university level. But the second perpetuates a much larger misconception: People really believe that our top high school students are taking ten-twelve AP courses during their high school year, maintaining 4.5 GPAs, and have the underlying knowledge one would expect from such study. But this almost certainly isn’t true. And once you understand the reality, it’s hard not to wonder about all the “weeding out courses” in organic chemistry and other brutal STEM college courses, the ones that Americans are abandoning in large numbers. The willingness to accept the cheating, to slap it on the wrist if that, is leading to lies that convince a lot of American kids that they aren’t smart enough for tough courses because they don’t cheat and aren’t aware that others are.

No one is going to pay any attention to this problem. Usually, Republicans/conservatives are willing to point out that supposedly racist beliefs are founded in valid stereotypes, and I find it pretty fascinating that they are practically gleeful about the discrimination against Asians, not because they approve, but because of what they see it revealing about Asian superiority, chortling at the need for “affirmative action for whites”, practically spiking the ball in their declarations that whites just aren’t up for the task of competing in a global market. I was originally confused, but have concluded that any reason to razz white liberals for racism is too good to be missed. Plus, reformers jump on the bandwagon because they think the news will help them convince whites that American schools suck. Others, like Charles Murray, are simply bothered by the lack of consistent standards. Liberals just ignore the news.

But at base, the Asian discrimination and the Kashawn Campbell story both reveal that our college admissions system is corrupt, that they are using students to build the metrics they want, rather than finding the students they want. I don’t know what to do about it. Fortunately, though, I just set out to explain why the discrimination happens, not offer any answers.

[Note: Given the comments of pseudoerasmus below, I want to be really clear: I am asserting that the stereotype of recent Asian immigrants exists, and I am reasonably sure the stereotype is why universities are discriminating against Asians. I also think the stereotype is accurate but not absolute. People who want me to prove the stereotype are out of luck. I'm just the messenger with an opinion. I've said the discrimination is wrong, regardless of the stereotype. That's not just a bunch of words.]


College Admissions, Race, and Unintended Consequences

The Big Reveal on Cal’s holistic admissions process created much fuss, most of it on behalf of Asians who are clearly the victims of discriminatory behavior.

I’m fussed, too. But most people don’t completely understand how this “problem” came about, and why the UC and other universities are discriminating against Asians. It’s not so much “affirmative action for whites” as it is unintended consequences of being forbidden to use affirmative action for blacks and Hispanics.

The GPA Demographic Footprint

In November of 1996, the UC system was told by the people of California that it was not allowed to consider race in admissions anymore. The UC system, like all universities in this country, wasn’t about to listen to the rabble. So, as Saul Geiser writes, the system went looking for a reason to reduce the weight given test scores.

Such differences in the demographic footprint of HSGPA and standardized tests are of obvious importance for expanding access and equity in college admissions, especially at those institutions where affirmative action has been curtailed or ended. … at those institutions where affirmative action has been challenged or eliminated, admissions officers have been forced to reevaluate the role of standardized tests as selection criteria.

The result has been a de-emphasis of standardized tests as admissions criteria at some institutions.
UC introduced “comprehensive review,” an admissions policy that more systematically took into account the impact of socioeconomic factors, such as parents’ education and family income, on students’ test scores and related indicators of academic achievement. [note: this is the process described in the NY Times article]. UC also revised its Eligibility Index, a numerical scale which sets minimum HSGPA and test-score requirements for admission to the UC system; the revised index gave roughly three-quarters of the weight to HSGPA and the remainder to standardized tests. … Under this policy [of Eligibility in the Local Context], which also took effect in 2001, students’ class rank within high school was determined solely on the basis of their HSGPA in college preparatory coursework, so that the effect of this policy, too, was to diminish the role of standardized tests in UC admissions.

So de-emphasize those evil, racist tests that traditionally represent, in the typical progressive’s mind, a means of reinforcing the institutionalized hegemony of the white man’s values. Grades, in contrast, reflected the school’s values, the school’s priorities. So majority URM schools, both charters and inner city, can put whatever grades they like on classes that can be called whatever they want. UC officials made the change, along with Eligibility in the Local Context, so that majority URM schools could lie about their students’ academic abilities properly reflect the students’ diligence and abilities in subjects simply not valued by the institutional racists at the College Board.

The problem is, alas, that UC admissions made changes to their policy based on the “demographic footprint” of tests, but they forgot about the demographic footprint of grades.

Namely: Asians, particularly recent immigrant Asians, kill whites on grades. The test score advantage is getting (suspiciously) worse, but the grade advantage is huge.

That wasn’t part of the plan. Look, universities know the game as well as anyone: grades are a fraud. That’s why, until relatively recently, all universities weighted test scores as high or higher than grades.

If high school grades were objectively accurate, why does the University of California have an entry level writing requirement?—and why is that writing requirement either a test or a college level course? (And I have my own doubts of college level courses, but more on that later.) Why is remediation a huge issue in state colleges? If high school grades meant anything, schools could just accept students with high grades and hey, presto. Problem solved.

But Saul Geiser is a good researcher, and his study finds that HSGPA is as good or better a predictor of freshman GPA as test scores. Sure. But that brings up another point: Freshman GPA is pretty worthless, too. It’s a metric that goes back to a time when everyone took the same classes. It’s ancient. It predates the growing disconnect between grades and ability.

I’d go further and argue that in total, college GPA is worthless for much the same reasons that high school GPA is. We hear constant stories about grade inflation at elite schools, while public universities are under tremendous pressure to pass as many wholly unqualified blacks and Hispanics as they can, given the huge number that can’t even get past the remedial classes. How can grade point average mean anything in a world that requires some students to pass calculus and while others only take remedial math (which they can skip if they got an SAT score of 600+)?

If college grades were objectively accurate, the “mismatch theory“, for better or worse, couldn’t even be conceived of. If an A at Harvard is the same as an A at Berkeley which is the same as an A at Florida State, then lower ability students couldn’t get higher GPAs at Florida State and Richard Sanders shouldn’t be pushing his mismatch theory. Besides, what do you suppose the renewed push for a college exit exam is about? And in a world where we did require an exit exam, what would be the best predictor of passing rates—college grades or incoming SAT scores? Everyone knows that answer: unless the exit exam was rigged, we’d find that passing rates were best predicted by SAT scores, which would show a distressing, racially uneven, distribution.

I understand that GPAs are a useful metric because the people who use them filter the data through context—race, school, major, and so on. That’s fine, but not when you have the University of California claiming that HSGPA predicts four-year college outcomes when the university in questions sending easily half of its URM admits into remediation classes.

UC knows this. The whole GPA thing is just cover. What did a little lie matter, if it allowed them to bring in more blacks and Hispanics and thwart the will of California voters? The only people hurt would be the kids who didn’t get 4.0s.

Except that turned out to be a whole hell of a lot of kids with really good SAT scores, a whole lot of them white. So let’s look at four UC campuses:

Campus Ranking 3.75+ GPA Non-Res SATR SATM SATW600
% 600+ % 700+ % 600+ % 700+ % 600+ % 700+
Berkeley 1 79 540 38 36 28 56 34 46
San Diego 3 86 1530 42 15 41 42 46 22
Santa Barbara 5 75 228 41 13 47 24 44 17
Santa Cruz 7 33 16 26 6 31 7 24 7

The reality of demographic footprints being what they are, the kids represented by these numbers are almost exclusively white or Asian. Any black or Hispanic getting scores above 600 are usually going to a higher ranked private school. Keep in mind that these stats are leaving out UCLA, Irvine, and Davis, technically ranked second, fourth, and sixth, although the difference between UCSB, Irvine, and Davis metrics are primarily in the demographics.

In other words, a hell of a lot of kids are getting 2000+ SAT scores who aren’t getting into the top 3 schools, while a whole bunch of kids with 1800-2000 scores are. And the difference, for the most part, is grades. In the days before California banned affirmative action, the UCs weighted grades and test scores much closer to evenly—a 3.8 GPA with excellent test scores and a demanding schedule could easily get into Cal or UCLA. No more.

So the GPA edge led to unanticipated consequences and a huge advantage for Asians. But that was just one of the problems.

Changing the SAT

The UC system wasn’t content with just devaluing test scores, so they tried another change that had terrible blowback, again in the Asian category. First, in 2002, Richard Atkinson called for an end to the SAT and a greater use of the SAT Subject tests. By 2005, the SAT had been completely revamped, the College Board having clearly understood the hint.

While I can’t be certain, I think the original changes were intended to increase the number of blacks and Hispanics eligible by making the test burden lighter. At this point, the UC doesn’t appear to have been thinking about Asian overrepresentation. I’m not sure this was caused by anything other than Atkinson’s pet fancy, which is sad, given the consequences—which have gone well beyond Caliornia.

I haven’t been a fan of the new SAT. My sense has always been that it became much easier, and more amenable to swotters. But not until I worked on this piece did I realize how much easier, and how much more apparently coachable it is, particularly for those who take hundreds of hours of test prep. The College Board releases percentile ranks by race and ethnicity, but I can’t find the original files for anything before 2005. (If anyone can, then you’re a hell of a googler and send them my way.)

However, I found a book that cites exactly the file I want.

satpercentileasians1995

So in 1995, 14% of Asians, 5.8% of whites, and .6% of blacks scored over 700 in math, which means that the percentile for 700 was 86%, 94%, and 99%. In 2010 (confirm here), those percentiles were 77%, 94%, and 1%.

Only Asians got a lot smarter? Weird. Not impossible. A lot more Chinese and Koreans are taking the test. Not my pick as an explanation, though.

In 1995, the verbal percentile ranks for 700 were (I think) 98.2% Asian, 98.7% for whites, and 99+% for blacks. While this article doesn’t mention it, the 2010 rankings show that the corresponding 700 percentile rankings are now 92%, 94%, and 99%.

Have whites and Asians have gotten a lot smarter in verbal? No. If you won’t take my word for it, check out GRE scores during that time, which was very similar to the 1995 SAT throughout the 90s and before and after, did not see a corresponding increase in scores.

Or–my pick–the reading test has gotten a lot easier, which I’ve been telling to anyone who will listen, and, in my opinion, it’s gotten easier in a way that allows it to be coached more effectively. And the coaching has become more effective over time. Let’s look at all the data together, with a couple more years from the new SAT:

Year Math 700 %ile Verbal 700 %ile
Asians Whites Asians Whites
1995 86 94 98 99
2006 81 94 93 95
2010 77 94 92 94
2012 75 93 91 94

(Cite for 2006, 2012).

Weird. SAT scores are generally pretty stable. Until I started researching this, I had no idea that the Asian increase was that dramatic, and it is part of a series of discoveries over past year making me wonder if the big gap between Asian and white test prep use (and time spent in test prep) is doing more than just giving Asians a slight edge. This piece is long enough without bringing up the ACT, but I believe that a 700 M corresponds to a 32—or it used to, anyway—and notice that a 32 is only 85%ile for Asians. I have been working on these two essays for ten days or so, and I haven’t yet been able to find ACT percentiles by race over the past ten years or so. Reading and English appear to be roughly the same. However, almost three times as many Asians take the SAT as take the ACT.

One other thing to keep in mind—the number of native Chinese and Koreans taking the test has exploded. Are they fluent in English? Ask any university freshman at an elite school with a Chinese or Korean grad student instructor. So by any stretch, the Asian mean should have been dropping slightly, shouldn’t it? Which means either Asian Americans have gotten phenomenally better, the Chinese/Korean nationals are also getting high Verbal SAT scores, or….what? What explains this jump?

Whites had increased scores in reading, which I believe supports my contention that the 2005 changes were easier. Why did white math scores stay stable? That’s part of a longer post that’s all intuition on my part. Suffice it to say that the SAT math section is both shorter and easier. This helps people with high attention to detail who aren’t as intuitively strong in math. (yes, I know, the SAT supposedly tests higher math since 2005. Too long for this post, but I would disagree.) However, I do understand there could be other factors at work.

I’ll write more about various things that might be the cause of the extremely strange boost in Asian math and verbal scores in the next post, but for now, let’s leave it at this: UC had a big problem. The changes they had hoped might improve scores for blacks and Hispanics (my interpretation) had instead led to unimaginable increases in high Asian scores in the SAT.

More Subject Tests! No, wait. No Subject Tests!

The College Board obligingly did UC’s bidding in making the test easier (my read), but UC continued to follow Atkinson’s directive by requiring two optional subject tests. Previously, applicants had to take two required tests that were much easier than the others (Writing and Math 1C), and then one optional test. Now, the Writing and Math 1C tests were disallowed, and students had to choose two of the “harder” subject tests to take. This requirement handed Asians an enormous advantage over whites. To see why, just check out the percentile rankings of the subject tests—but before you do, close your eyes and stereotype like mad. What subject tests do you think Asians are more likely to take? Okay, now look. Get a load of those Chinese and Korean tests! Roughly half of all takers get an 800–and check out how many of the testers are native speakers. My goodness gracious.

Notice, too, the skew on the Math 2c test. I’ve tutored students in both the Math 2c and English Lit tests for around a decade. It is far easier to prep students for the Math 2c than it is the English Literature test. The test is considerably more difficult as well, because high schools directly cover the math subject matter, but don’t cover the English Lit subject matter, which relies far more on, dare I say, innate literary analysis skills.

In general, subject tests aren’t subjected (hahahaha) to the same scrutiny as the SAT. It’s well known, for example, that the score distributions are wacky, and that in certain tests–Physics, I’m looking at you–the lowest score is higher than the usual 200. I’m not a psychometrician, but I’d love to have someone make the College Board explain this document. Why, if more people finish the English test and get the same amount right, are the scores so much lower? Why, given the much higher accuracy rate of the Korean and Chinese listening tests, aren’t the tests made more difficult? But I digress.

And so, just a decade after Richard Atkinson called for an end to the SAT as an admissions tool and complete reliance on the Subject tests, UC does a complete 180, ending the use of subject tests in admissions. Asians knew instantly this was All About Them, and there was little attempt to deny it:

It was also noted that white students seem to be the winners under the new guarantee; this should be of concern to Council. BOARS Chair Rashid acknowledged that the percentage of white students does indeed go up and the percentage of Asian students goes down. The reason for this is that Asian students seem to be very good at figuring out the technical requirements of UC eligibility. If the subject exam is removed, even more white and Asian students meet the requirements of eligibility. Political perception is another concern. This proposal should also not be viewed as the ultimate solution to diversity. It was also noted that the numbers of females goes up under either scenario.

(emphasis mine.)

Please note that bolded comment. They aren’t saying drats, Asians are smarter. Or drats, we need diversity.

Read the rest of the memo to see the various hoops they jumped through in order to get this cover.

Back where it all started
You know what would have been much easier? Require four Subject tests: English Lit, Math 2c, American History, and a Science. Asians would still do well, but it would have been harder. Dump the SAT, dump or devalue grades. If nothing else, we’d be giving smart kids of all races a chance to show their stuff purely through test scores, imperfect as they may be, rather than the vagaries of teacher assessment.

But that gets UC right back to the problem it started with, the reason it emphasized GPA over test scores in the first place, the problem that it created just to give them a cover story for ignoring the will of the California voters (and, eventually, the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court). A test-score only admissions process would eliminate almost all blacks and Hispanics from consideration. The problem: every attempt to bring in more blacks and Hispanics leads to more Asians.

Problem? Why is it a problem? Shouldn’t the universities just let the chips fall where they may? If the schools are overwhelmingly Asian, so what?

Well, for starters, relying exclusively on grades leads to Kashawn Campbell at the low end—hell, Kashawn’s story singlehandedly reveals the need for test scores, the fraudulence of high school grades, and the sketchy nature of college grades in one neat little package.

But more importantly, a huge number of the Asians admitted are either nationals or first and second generation Chinese, Koreans, and Indians.

None of what I’ve written or will write is intended in any way to rationalize the discrimination against Asians. Quite the contrary. Any fair admissions process would lead to overrepresentation of Asians. But I hope to persuade readers that college admissions in its current form, in both private and public schools, is so corrupt that getting outraged about discrimination for or against any one demographic is pointless. Any outrage you find is counterbalanced by another, and no, it’s not as if it all works out.


Kashawn Campbell

Predictably, many regard the Kashawn Campbell story as proof of low school standards. But I would argue that the underlying problem is grade fraud, which is a different issue.

I’ve been writing about grade fraud for college admission for a while now. Wait, you say, that’s a link to a KIPP piece. Well, yeah. Charters are among the worst offenders in grade fraud, which is the tacit admissions directive enabled by Top Ten % or eligibility in the local context plans: the kids with the best grades in their schools are guaranteed entrance to the public universities.

The policy rewards compliance more than ability, as I’ve also written; I routinely see bright kids with low GPAs in every type of school. If we are going to lower standards to bring in underrepresented minorities, far better to find the brightest ones—which aren’t necessary the ones with the best grades. And when I complain about this, some folks say some version of “Well, what’s wrong with rewarding hard work?”

Well, what’s wrong with it, eventually, is Kashawn Campbell. The people who value grades like to believe that the difference between an A and a B is nothing more than effort, when in fact, teachers can give whatever grades they like, with only a few restrictions that limit how low we can drop a grade. None limit our ability to give an A.

So the people blame crappy schools, because of course the only thing that prevents Kashawn from learning is a school that wanted the easy way out. And if we’d have Common Core, then we would have known Kashawn didn’t know anything. This line of thinking ignores the fact that California state tests almost certainly showed that Kashawn didn’t know anything—assuming, that is, he took the standard tests (more on that later). And then you have the affirmative action complainers—this group, I generally agree with but I am coming to the point of finding college admissions so revoltingly corrupt that affirmative action for blacks and Hispanics seems almost benign compared to the contortions universities go through to bring them in under alternative means.

But that’s not what interested me.

No, I’m wondering why the reporter, Kurt Streeter, who is African American, hinted at so much. Some details are so instructive that I can’t figure out why he didn’t go further or, more typically, leave them out.

What details? Well, the big one I wonder about: is Kashawn brain damaged? (Or, as a National Review commenter said in summarizing this essay, perhaps he is not neurotypical?)

“When I delivered him, I thought he was dead,” said his mother, Lillie, recalling the umbilical cord tight around his neck. “He was still as stone but eventually he came to. Proved he was a survivor. Ever since, I’ve called him my miracle child.”

Umbilical cord around the neck is pretty common and doesn’t usually lead to brain damage. The “still as stone” bit makes me wonder, though, if he was oxygen starved during birth.

He filled his dorm room with Cal posters, and wore clothes emblazoned with the school’s name. Each morning the gawky, bone-thin teen energetically reminded his dorm mates to “have a Caltastic day!”

“It was clear that Kashawn was someone who didn’t know about, or maybe care about, social norms,” said one of his friends. “A lot of people would laugh at first. They didn’t understand how someone could be that enthusiastic.”

and

They sat together in the front row. One teacher noticed that Kashawn subconsciously seemed to mime his roommate: casually cocking his head and leaning back slightly as he pondered questions, just like Spencer.

Kashawn reveled in the class in a way he hadn’t since high school. He would often be the first one to speak up in discussions, even though his points weren’t always the most sophisticated, said Gabrielle Williams, a doctoral student who helped teach the class.

and

Many of them jaywalked. Not Kashawn. Just as he’d been taught, he only used crosswalks, only stepped onto the street when the coast was clear or a light flashed green.

and

Sometimes in the dorm room, Spencer would look over at Kashawn and see him sitting in front of his computer, body frozen and face expressionless, JVC headphones wrapped over his ears, but no music playing.

He’s weird, in other words, and completely unconscious of it. Nothing wrong with that. Except he was prom king, and most likely to succeed.

His teachers and his classmates at Jefferson High all rooted for the slight and hopeful African American teenager. He was named the prom king, the most likely to succeed, the senior class salutatorian.

That strike you as a tad odd? Since when do high school kids name socially awkward kids prom king? Huh. Something comes to mind. But take a look at this first:

Part of the pressure came from race. ….When Kashawn arrived, 3% of Berkeley undergraduates were African American.

Kashawn’s high school is 91% Hispanic. So Kashawn went from being a 9% minority to a 3% minority. Not entirely sure he’d notice that difference.

A black kid with a goofy affect, limited social skills, geeky, awkward, and attending an all Hispanic school is declared prom king and most likely to succeed?

You know when a slight, geeky, weird guy with awkward social skills is voted most likely to succeed and prom king? When it’s an act of charity, an act that makes a group of tough kids feel good about themselves—that is, when the kid in question is “special”. You see it in all those feel-good articles about a special day student who becomes kind of a mascot for the school, the one everyone loves, who brings all the feuding elements together. Naturally, there might be another explanation. But anyone familiar with high school dynamics has to wonder about the specifics of Kashawn’s popularity.

Which is what I’m wondering, because even within the context of a low income, low ability school, Kashawn’s writing problems and his failure to improve seem significant.

And then, of course, there’s the friend, Spencer:

Spencer was raised in a tough L.A. neighborhood by a single mom who had sometimes worked two jobs to pay the rent. Spencer had gone to struggling public schools, receiving straight A’s at Inglewood High. Spencer didn’t curse, didn’t party, didn’t try to act tough and was shy around girls.

To Spencer, Berkeley was the first place he could feel fully comfortable being intellectual and black, the first place he could openly admit he liked folk music and punk rock.

He was cruising through Cal, finishing the first semester with a 3.8 GPA despite a raft of hard classes. “I can easily see him being a professor one day,” said his political theory instructor, noting that Spencer was one of the sharpest students in a lecture packed with nearly 200 undergraduates.

Why not write an article about Spencer? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a story about an inner city kid who was prepared for college? You could even include his SAT scores–hey, speaking of metrics that are totally absent.

Notice that Spencer and Kashawn take African American studies together. Notice that Kashawn got an A on the essay and a B on the midterm–and an overall A in the class, and that he “copied” Spencer’s every move. And notice that his writing professor basically accused him of cheating:

After reviewing his writing, though, it was clear to her that he had received far too much help from someone else.

It’s never mentioned again, this little cheating episode.

Questions remain:

  1. How did Kashawn pass the Introductory Science class with a D? No information about that class or the teacher is included.
  2. Why did the writing instructor give him an Incomplete twice instead of an F?
  3. What did Kashawn’s African American studies essay look like? Was it a deserved A, or a pity A? If the former, why could Kashawn only write well in this class? Why didn’t Streeter ask to see the A essay?
  4. Why doesn’t Streeter mention what classes Kashawn took in high school? Kashawn was a junior in 2011, which would be the last year he took the California end of state tests. Only 22 juniors at Jefferson High were black that year. Nine of them took geometry, nine took algebra II, two of them took Summative Math (for precalc and beyond). Which of these was Kashawn?
  5. Streeter clearly reviewed the school’s test scores. What were Kashawn’s scores?
  6. Did Streeter know that Kashawn’s school was 91% Hispanic? If so, why imply that Kashawn felt isolated in a non-black environment?

See, Kashawn’s story isn’t unusual—well, if he’s suffering from brain damage or is actually mentally retarded, then it’s a bit unusual. Otherwise, thousands of African American and Hispanic kids enter college every year, woefully unprepared to even begin to succeed. And, as the story clearly illustrates, the ones that work terribly hard or show the slightest bit of effort are often given passing grades out of some combination of pity and paternalism.

I am puzzled, however, that Streeter has left clues. Why mention Kashawn’s unusual affect, his nomination as prom king, his faithful copying of Spencer, to make it fairly clear to a closer reader that there’s something really off about the kid? Why be so uncompromising on the point of Kashawn’s incoherent writing and his failure to improve in any way, unless it’s for the same reason he includes only one quote from his mother which suggests his birth was unusual?

If Streeter wanted to indict the University of California admissions system, he has the stuff: an illiterate, possibly retarded, student is accepted via a standard specifically created to bypass the affirmative action ban. But he could have been more explicit: included SAT scores, state test scores, courses taken, specific examples of Kashawn’s writing.

If he wanted to indict Kashawn’s high school, which is how most readers seem to interpret the story, he could have gone even further and shown exactly how deep the fraud went. What math had Kashawn advanced to? What were his state scores? What books had he read in English class? How badly had his school fooled him? But all of that data is missing in action.

Of course, he might not have included this data because it would have given far too much away.

Or perhaps Streeter just wanted to illustrate the tremendous internal pressures experienced by a clearly wonderful young man who has no ability to complete college level work. Leave aside blame. Leave aside larger policy considerations. Just tell his story. Okay. Then why just hint at the special ed and the cheating?

Reporters often tell me they simply seek to tell the story, that they don’t think of policy issues, which strikes me as just a tad disingenuous. I have no idea what Streeter’s response would be but surely not that. How can any reporter tell a story about an unprepared African American student at the top public university in the country without thinking of the larger social issues he represents? He can’t. And if he can avoid the larger issues, surely his editor wouldn’t?

Then I read the article comments, and interspersed between the jeremiads about public education and complaints about affirmative action, I see:

Keep up the hard work Kashawn, college is not easy and your story is not an isolated one. There are thousands of college students that struggle like you, remember to stay motivated and keep working hard. If college was easy everyone would go (and graduate).
…..
Keep it going Kashawn! Nothing that is worth it comes easy! Everyone is looking for “that chance.” I don’t think it’s wrong to give him one.

Keshawn – do not let anyone take away your stellar record and GPA from Jefferson or your heartbreaking first semester at CAL. You have heart and you will continue to make it. Good luck.

You can do it, Keshawn! I am a Cal grad who had the advantage of tough private school training. Your story makes me realize how lucky I was. You’ve got my full admiration for your integrity and determination. Don’t ever quit!

…and I realize that for some people, Kashawn’s story represents a beautiful struggle and success. And maybe Streeter is just writing for them.

The rest of us should avoid drawing any policy implications, and just pick up on the hints.

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Updated to add: A few commenters have suggested that Kashawn has Asperger’s or autism. I thought of including this originally, but I’m not an expert, even though I sound like I think I’m one in the comments.

Kashawn doesn’t seem anything like the Asperger’s students I’ve worked with, but then, none of them have been low IQ. I’ve only worked with one diagnosed autistic student, and I do see some similarities.

But if Kashawn was autistic, wouldn’t Streeter mention this? UC Berkeley has a huge organization dedicated to helping students with disabilities, including autism, and extensive support for learning disabilities. Yet there’s no mention of that in the story.

I’m not any sort of expert on autism spectrum disorders. It could be that autism, rather than hypoxia at birth, is at the root of Kashawn’s oddness. However, I still don’t see any reason for withholding information about Kashawn’s high school academic record unless it would reveal that Kashawn’s cognitive abilities were profoundly limited.


Why Most of the Low Income “Strivers” are White

So I was reading David Leonhardt’s story on elite colleges and low income kids with high test scores—not news, since I’d read Steve Sailer’s post on the study earlier—and was pleased to see that the reporter had at least mentioned race: “Among high-achieving, low-income students, 6 percent were black, 8 percent Latino, 15 percent Asian-American and 69 percent white, the study found. “

Of course, while Leonhardt mentions race, he doesn’t mention that gosh by golly, those numbers are lopsided, aren’t they? and none of the posts or tweets I’ve read mention that tremendous imbalance (other than Steve Sailer, of course). Mokita–the truth we all know and agree not to talk about.

Steve said in his earlier post that he was “guessing” that the reserve of kids was white, and of course he was right. What I’d like to remind everyone, while they’re all ignoring the truth, is that Steve didn’t need to guess.

While Hoxby defined “high achieving” as 1300 SAT M-V, let’s be clear: no white or Asian kid without legacy parents or uncommon athletic or artistic ability has any shot at all at a top 20 school without a GPA of 4.0 or higher and SAT combined score over 1400.

According to the College Board, however, just 1500 African Americans scored 700 on either the Math or Reading SAT—which means almost certainly fewer than 1500 scored 700 on both.

The number of African Americans at the top 20 schools, using 2008 data (saved me looking up the individual common data sets), is 2,217.

Okay, a couple of the top 20 schools field football and basketball teams, but the steep SAT skews for athletes are usually found at the big public universites. So the entire reservoir of African Americans with genuinely competitive SAT scores (never mind grades) are taken up entirely by the top 20 schools and they’re already scooping into the scores below that marker. It goes down from there.

Hispanic admissions would tell a similar story, since only around 3000 Mexican, Puerto Rican, or other Hispanic students scored above 700 in either section (again, probably fewer achieved over 700 on both). Please don’t make me add up all twenty from the CDS—here’s six of the top 10 adding up to a bit over 1100 Hispanic admits in 2011 or thereabouts.

This article argues that elite schools recruit low income blacks and Hispanics as a two-fer—they are both poor and non-white, but it’s a mistake assume that the black and Hispanic admits are impoverished. Within races, SAT scores rise and fall with income, on average, and since so few blacks and Hispanics make top marks, it’s very unlikely that a noticeable percentage of low income blacks and Hispanics are hitting genuinely competitive scores (and I speak as someone who has coached low income black/Hispanic students in SAT/ACT, and even seen a few 600+ scores). Low income whites outscore high income blacks and tie high income Hispanics on every IQ-proxy test we have, and the SAT and ACT are no exception.

So no one needs to guess that the high scoring low income kids attending non-elite schools are a predominantly white population, and David Leonhardt didn’t need to mention it, although I’m pleased he did. The students in this category have to be predominantly white, as there aren’t enough high scoring blacks or Hispanics of any income level to fill the maw of top-50 universities desperate to pat themselves on the back for their “diverse” population; they are already granting a steep discount by the 20th school on the US News list.

Meanwhile, at 35th ranked NYU, 34-42% of their admits received 700 or higher on the Math or Reading SAT, while only 12-14% of the students were accepted with scores below 600 on either section. It’s probably just a coincidence that their Hispanic and black admits combined were 15%? So by 35th ranked NYU, they are reaching down into the 500s. Berkeley, at #21, accepts 3-5% of students with scores in the 400s, but then Cal has a football team.

None of this is news. But in presenting the problem as one of income, Leonhardt is coming perilously close to misrepresenting the story. It’s not gee whiz, how come poor kids are ending up at local community colleges and low-end state universities, but that poor white kids—and indeed, many middle class white kids—simply don’t have a chance at top-ranked schools because they are being actively discriminated against in favor of lower-scoring blacks and Hispanics of all income levels*. Most whites in both low and middle income categories know this full well, so they don’t bother applying—why waste the time or the application fee. Asians, of course, are also subject to discrimination, but as someone with seven years experience in the Asian test prep industry, I’m less bothered by the 100 point premium they pay against whites. Sounds about right, when compared to a white (or black or Hispanic, for that matter) kid of similar abilities who didn’t prep.

And as I’ve mentioned before now, the two tools the universities use to rationalize the discrimination are grades and course transcripts. Majority URM schools (both charter and comprehensive) can simply lie about their course content and grade based on effort. Unexpected consequence: Asians are overrepresented despite the discount, because white parents just don’t care as much about grades.

None of this will be resolved by the Supreme Court decision; universities have demonstrated unyielding allegiance to URM admissions and rich white legacy donors. But in my perfect world, college admissions would work something like this.

***************************************************
*I’m adding this later. Private schools are also discriminating against all non-legacy students in favor of “development” (wealthy or legacy or both) admits. I guess it’s too much to expect that, after their pursuit of money, their treatment of non-development candidates be even-handed.


SAT Writing Tests–A Brief History

I have a bunch of different posts in the hopper right now, but after starting a mammoth comment on this brand new E. D. Hirsch post (Welcome to blogging, sir!), I decided to convert it to a post—after all, I need the content. (Well, it was brand new when I started this post, anyway.)

Hirsch is making a larger point about Samuel Messick’s concern with consequential validity versus construct validity but he does so using the history of the SAT. In the 80s, says Hirsch, the ETS devised a multiple choice only method of testing writing ability, which was more accurate than an essay test. But writing quality declined, he implies, because students believed that writing wasn’t important. But thanks to Messick, the SAT finally included a writing sample in its 2005 changes.

I have nothing more than a layman’s understanding of construct vs. consequential validity, and Hirsch’s expertise in the many challenges of assessing writing ability is unquestioned, least of all by me. But I know a hell of a lot about the SAT, and what he writes here just didn’t match up with what I knew. I went looking to confirm my knowledge and fill any gaps.

First, a bit of actual SAT writing assessment history:

  • By 1950, the CEEB (College Board’s original name) had introduced the English Composition Achievement Test. The original test had six sections, three multiple choice, three essay (or free response). The CEEB began experimenting with a full 2-hour essay the next year, and discontinued that in 1956. At that point, I believe, the test was changed to 100 question multiple choice only. (Cite for most of this history; here’s a second cite but you need to use the magnifying glass option.)
  • In 1960, the CEEB offered an unscored writing sample to be taken at the testing center, at the universities’ request, which would be sent on to the schools for placement scoring. (I think this was part of the SAT, but can’t be sure. Anyone have a copy of “The Story Behind the First Writing Sample”, by Fred Godshalk?)
  • In 1963, the English Composition Achievement Test was changed to its most enduring form: a 20 minute essay, followed by a 40-minute multiple choice section with 70 questions.
  • In 1968, the CEEB discontinued the unscored writing sample, again at the universities’ request. No one wanted to grade the essays.
  • In 1971, the CEEB discontinued the essay in the ECAT , citing cost concerns.
  • In 1974, the SAT was shortened from 3 hours to 2 hours and 45 minutes, and the Test of Standard Written English was added. The TSWE was multiple choice only, with questions clearly similar to the English Composition Achievement Test. The score is not included in the SAT score, but reported to colleges separately, to be used for placement.
  • In 1976, in response to complaints, the essay version of the ECAT was reinstated. (It may or may not be significant that four years later, the ETS ran its first deficit.) From what I can tell, the ECAT and the TSWE process remained largely unchanged from 1976 through 1994. This research paper shows that the essay was part of the test throughout the 80s.
  • In 1993, all achievement tests were rebranded as SAT II; the English Composition Achievement Test was renamed to the SAT II Writing exam. At some point, the SAT II was shortened from 70 to 60 questions, but I can’t find out when.
  • In 1994 , there were big changes to the SAT: end to antonyms, calculators allowed, free response questions in math. While the College Board had originally intended to add a “free response” to the verbal section (that is, an essay), pressure from the University of California, the SAT’s largest customer, forced it to back down (more on this later). At this time, the TSWE was discontinued. Reports often said that the SAT Writing exam was “new”; I can find no evidence that the transition from the ECAT to the SAT II was anything but seamless.
  • In 1997, the College Board added a writing section to the PSAT that was clearly derived from the TSWE.
  • In 2005, the College Board added a writing section to the SAT. The writing section has three parts: one 25 minute essay and two multiple choice sections for a total of 49 questions. The new writing test uses the same type of questions as the ECAT/SAT II, but the essay prompt is simpler (I can personally attest to this, as I was a Kaplan tutor through the transition).
  • By the way, the ACT never required an essay until 2005, when compliance with UC’s new requirement forced it to add an optional essay.

I’m sure only SAT geeks like me care about this, but either Hirsch is wrong or all my links are wrong or incomplete. First, even with his link, I can’t tell what he’s referring to when he says “ETS devised a test…”. A few sentences before, he places the date as the early 80s. The 80s were the one decade of the past five in which the College Board made no changes to any of its writing tests. So what test is he referring to?

I think Hirsch is referring to the TSWE, which he apparently believes was derived in the early 80s, that it was a unique test, and that the College Board replaced the TSWE with the required essay in 2005. This interpretation of his errors is the only way I can make sense of his explanation.

In that case, not only are his facts wrong, but this example doesn’t support his point. The SAT proper did not test written English for admissions. The TSWE was intended for placement, not admissions. Significantly, the ACT was starting to pick up market share during this time, and the ACT has always had an excellent writing test (multiple choice, no essay). Without the TSWE, the SAT lacked a key element the ACT offered, and saying “Hey, just have your students pay to take this extra test” gave the ACT an even bigger opening. This may just possibly have played into the rationale for the TSWE.

Colleges that wanted an SAT essay test for admissions (as opposed to placement) had won that battle with the English Composition Achievement Test. The CEEB bowed to the pressures of English teachers not in 2005, but in 1963, when it put the essay back into the ECAT despite research showing that essays were unreliable and expensive. After nine years of expense the CEEB believed to be unnecessary, it tried again to do away with the essay, but the same pressures forced it to use the essay on the English Composition Achievement Test/SAT II Writing Test from 1976 to 2005, when the test was technically discontinued, but actually shortened and incorporated into the SAT proper as the SAT Writing test. Any university that felt strongly about using writing for admissions could just require the ECAT. Many schools did, including the University of California, Harvard, Stanford, and most elite schools.

The College Board tried to put an essay into the test back in the 90s, but was stopped not because anyone was concerned about construct or consequential validity, but because its largest customer, the University of California, complained and said it would stop using the SAT if an essay was required. This struck me as odd at first, because, as I mentioned, the University of California has required that all applicants take the English Composition Achievement test since the early 60s. However, I learned in the link that that Achievement Test scores weren’t used as an admissions metric until later in the 90s. In 1994, UC was using affirmative action so wasn’t worried about blacks and Hispanics. Asians, on the other hand, had reason to be worried about an essay test, since UC had already been caught discriminating against them, and UC clearly felt some placation was in order. Later, after the affirmative action ban, UC did a 180 on the essay, requiring that an essay be added to the SAT in 2005.

Why did the College Board want to put an essay in the SAT in 1994, and why did UC change its position 11 years later? My opinion: by then the College Board was getting more efficient at scoring essays, and the ECAT/SAT II Writing wasn’t catching on with any other than elite schools and UC. If the Writing test was rolled into the SAT, the College Board could charge more money. During the 90s we saw the first big push against multiple choice tests in favor of “performance-based assessments” (Hirsch has a whole chapter in one of his books about these misconceptions), giving the College Board a perfect rationale for introducing an essay and charging a lot more money. But UC nixed the essay until 2002, when its list of demands to the College Board called for for removing analogies, quantitative comparisons, and—suddenly—demanding that the writing assessment be rolled into the main SAT (page 15 of the UC link). I can see no reason for this—at that time, UC still required Subject tests, so why couldn’t applicants take the writing test when they took their other two Subject tests? The only reason—and I mean the only reason—I can see for rolling the writing test into the main SAT comes down to profit: the change made the College Board a hell of a lot of money.

Consider: the College Board already had the test, so no development costs beyond dumbing the test down for the entire SAT population (fewer questions, more time for the essay). So a test that only 10% of the testing population paid for could now be sold to 100% of the testing population. The 2005 SAT was both longer (in time) and shorter (in total questions), and a hell of a lot more expensive. Win win.

So UC’s demand gave the College Board cover. Fair’s fair, since UC had no research rationale whatsoever in demanding the end to analogies and quantitative comparisons, changes that would cost the College Board a great deal of money. Everyone knows that California’s ban on affirmative action has made UC very, very unhappy and if I were to assert without foundation that UC hoped and believed that removing the harder elements of the SAT would reduce the achievement gap and enable the university to admit more blacks and Hispanics, well, I’d still get a lot of takers. (Another clue: UC nearly halved the math test burden requirement at the same time—page 16 of the UC link.) (Oh, wait—Still another clue: Seven years later, after weighting the subject tests more heavily than the SAT and threatening to end the SAT requirement altogether, UC ends its use of….the Subject tests. Too many Asians being “very good at figuring out the technical requirements of UC eligibility”.)

So why does any of this matter?

Well, first, I thought it’d be useful to get the history in one place. Who knows, maybe a reporter will use it some day. Hahahahaha. That’s me, laughing.

Then, Hirsch’s assertion that the “newly devised test”, that is, the TSWE, led to a great decline in student writing ability is confusing, since the TSWE began in 1974, and was discontinued twenty years later. So when did the student writing ability decline? I’ve read before now that the seventies, not the eighties, saw writing nearly disappear from the high school curriculum (but certainly Hirsch knows about Applebee, way more than I do). If anything, writing instruction has improved, but capturing national writing ability is a challenge (again, not news to Hirsch). So where’s the evidence that student writing ability declined over the time of the TSWE, which would be 1974-1994? Coupled with the evidence that writing ability has improved since the SAT has achieved “consequential validity”?

Next, Hirsch’s history ignores the ECAT/SAT II Writing test, which offers excellent research opportunities for the impact of consequential validity. Given that UC has required a test with an essay for 50 years, Hirsch’s reasoning implies that California students would have stronger writing curriculum and abilities, given that they faced an essay test. Moreover, any state university that wanted to improve its students’ writing ability could just have required the ECAT/SAT Writing test—yet I believe UC was the only public university system in the country with that requirement. For that matter, several states require all students to take the ACT, but not the essay. Perhaps someone could research whether Illinois and Colorado (ACT required) have a weaker writing curriculum than California.

Another research opportunity might involve a comparison between the College Board’s choices and those driving American College Testing, creator of the ACT and the SAT’s only competition. I could find no evidence that the ACT was subjected to the on-again, off-again travails of the College Board’s English/Writing essay/no essay test. Not once did the College Board point to the ACT and say to all those teachers demanding an essay test, “Hey, these guys don’t have an essay, so why pick on us?” The ACT, from what I can see, never got pressured to offer an essay. This suggests, again, that the reason for all the angst over the years came not from dissatisfaction with the TSWE, but rather the Achievement/SAT II essay test, and the College Board’s varying profit motives over the years.

Finally, Hirsch’s example also assumes that the College Board, universities, high school teachers, and everyone else in 2005 were thinking about consequential or construct validity in adding the essay. I offer again my two unsupported assertions: The College Board made its 1994 and 2005 changes for business reasons. The UC opposed the change in 1994 and demanded it in 2005 for ideological reasons, to satisfy one of its various identity groups. Want to argue with me? No problem. Find me some evidence that UC was interested in anything other than broadening its admissions demographic profile in the face of an affirmative action ban, and any evidence that the College Board made the 2005 changes for any other reason than placating UC. Otherwise, the cynic’s view wins.

On some later date, I’ll write up my objections to the notion that the essay test has anything to do with writing ability, but they pulled the focus so I yanked them from this post.

By the way, I have never once met a teacher, except me, who gives a damn about helping his or her students prepare for the SAT. Where are these teachers? Can we take a survey?

Every so often, I wonder why I spend hours looking up data to refute a fairly minor point that no one really cares about in the first place and yes, this is one of those times. But dammit, I want things like this to matter. I don’t question Hirsch’s goals and agree with most of them. But I am bothered by the simplification or complete erasure of history in testing, and Hirsch, of all people, should value content knowledge.

Yeah, I did say “brief”, didn’t I? Sorry.


Fake Grades and Big Money: The KIPP “Pledges”

So I wrote about an alternative college admissions plan and apparently all anyone thinks I did was diss Asians. I mean, come on, that’s not all I did. Besides, I am not looking to dramatically reduce the Asian population at elite universities; whites and Asians (and some blacks and Hispanics) more interested in mastery than performance (that is, interested in content, not grades) will benefit equally. Eliminating grades from admissions decisions doesn’t hurt Asians much, but it goes a long way to discontinuing a tacit conspiracy between majority URM high schools (charters and comprehensives both) and universities to commit and accept grade fraud.

As an example: In the last year, the KIPP charter network inked partnerships with a number of public and private universities, committing the latter to “recruiting” a certain number of “KIPP graduates”, including scholarships .

I put “KIPP graduates” in quotes because neither of the articles linked makes it clear what graduates are to be recruited. Remember, to the extent that KIPP has been deemed successful (my own caveats here), the road stops at middle school. KIPP does have high schools, but they aren’t anything to get worked up about, and are rarely mentioned in the raves.

So who are the universities promising to recruit—KIPP high school graduates, or KIPP middle school graduates, when they finish high school some four years later? This seems a non-trivial point, but neither of the two stories makes the distinction. This memo of understanding between KIPP and Syracuse provides the necessary information:

So KIPP middle school graduates go to a comprehensive public high school, or another charter high school, and will be recruited by universities bound by the pledge.

How would those logistics work, exactly? Would these universities otherwise not go to these (non-KIPP) high schools to recruit and are only recruiting the KIPP alumni through KIPP networks, ignoring the other students at the same schools? Or would they otherwise recruit from these schools schools but are now committed to make a certain percentage of the recruits KIPP alumni, thus decreasing the chances for strong students that didn’t ever attend KIPP? Does either one of those options sound particularly fair to the other kids at those schools unlucky enough to be chosen by KIPP alumni? And shouldn’t the reporters find out which of those unappealing alternatives the universities have committed to?

Of course, KIPP high schools are exactly the sort of majority URM schools that commit grade fraud.

Take a look at KIPP’s report card, in which they publish some of their high schools’ average SAT scores:

School Average SAT Score/ACT Composite AP Test Rate AP Pass Rate % Matriculating
KIPP Houston 1426 80%* 68% 97%
KIPP Pride (NC) 1399 56% 18% 94%
KIPP Delta (Ark) 18 89% 7% 89%
KIPP Newark 19 42% 2% 96%

Houston’s almost 1500 average is relatively impressive, but only considering the demographic. (That is, the “No Excuses” school of thought will have to accept an excuse.) The rest are exceptionally low. Of course, that’s an average. My guess is that the range of scores for any one school is narrow, because otherwise KIPP high schools are turning out blacks and Hispanics who have excellent SAT scores and not mentioning it. Yeah, unlikely. And of course, in that scenario, they are also turning out far below average candidates, even for blacks and Hispanics, and those students would likely have been “counseled out” of KIPP long ago. So it’s likely the students’ SAT scores are all clustered fairly tightly.

So here is exactly what I mean when I talk about grade fraud. I suppose it’s possible that these schools are handing out only Cs, Ds, and Fs to go along with those mediocre SAT/ACT scores. But more likely, many students are getting As and Bs in AP classes when in fact they can barely break 470 on any section of the SAT and are only passing AP tests *if they are Hispanics taking the AP Spanish test. If they’d been going to a suburban school would have been flunking most classes and never been allowed near AP classes unless the school had swallowed the Jay Mathews Koolaid. But on paper, they look impressive, and have all sorts of classes on their transcripts that give them cover for admission, particularly for public universities. Of course, they’ll end up in remediation, but so what? KIPP gets bragging rights.

I don’t know if KIPP alumni who went to other, non-KIPP high schools are doing better. KIPP did release the college graduation data as part of their College Completion Report, but not the average SAT score. As I’ve said before, call me cynical, but I think they would have released the average SAT scores if they’d been well above average for blacks and Hispanics.

In their high schools, at least, KIPP schools are not turning out stellar candidates, and whatever they are managing to teach them isn’t translating to college admissions test scores normally worthy of entry to Duke, Brown, Georgtown and other elite universities who signed a pledge. But because KIPP is the rock star of the charter movement and many of their donors are connected alumni to these prestigious universities, doors open to KIPP alumni not because they are academically superior, but because of KIPP’s connections.

Is that how it’s supposed to work? A few low income black and Hispanic kids benefit not because they got a better education, not because they are, in fact, better educated than kids who attend comprehensive schools, but because KIPP’s cachet gives them pull with the right people?


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