SAT Snobs

I generallly enjoy reading Gary Rubenstein, an ex-TFAer who has developed a healthy skepticism for the eduformer group. His flaws include a purist attitude about math (common among mathematicians, as opposed to people who teach math) and a reverence for Diane Ravitch.

But he raised my ire when, in the midst of a rant about desperate schools paying “expert” consultants for turnarounds that will never happen, he mentions a school’s low SAT scores:

Bronx International High School in New York had a lot of attrition and very low test scores. As far as academic rigor, their average SAT score was 1010. This was a bad score when it was out of 1600, but now that it is out of 2400, this is absolutely horrific. You get 750 for just writing your name on the test!

See, that’s just irritating. First, the low score is 600 for three sections, not 750. (Low score per section is 200).

But the real annoyance is his invocation of the idiotic trope of “getting points for signing your name” on the SAT.

“You get 120 points on the LSAT just for writing your name!” or “You get a 1 on the AP test if you turn in a blank test!”, or “You get a point on the ACT just for writing your name!” You never hear those much, yet they’re all equally true.

Newsflash, people: few if any standardized tests give a zero score. Everyone gets the lowest score just for turning in the test. Mocking the SAT for giving 200 points just for showing up either shows a real ignorance of the other tests or a lamentable desire to follow the herd.

In fact, the 200 score reflects a range of scores from -16 or so (marking every single question on the reading section incorrectly, a near impossibility) to a 0 (leaving the test blank, or getting a 1:4 ratio of right to wrong answers).

But that’s just obsessive geekishness and besides, it’s not the scoring, it’s the criticism that mildly annoys me. First, the SAT and its competitor, the ACT are the most egalitarian standardized tests in the nation. Really. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but these tests are the fairest, cheapest, most achievable option for low income students who want to improve their chances for college admission and placement. These tests find the diamonds in the rough, but also help the steady plodders. If you don’t understand this, then you’re an ideologue with an agenda or you’ve been snowed by one.

If you wish to criticize a test’s scoring system, pick on the Advanced Placement test, Jay Mathew’s beauty queen, star of the Challenge Index. AP tests have a skimpy five point scoring system, with no way to distinguish between the many, many blank tests turned in by students forced to take the test so their schools will qualify for Jay’s contest and a genuinely weak effort that simply failed. They are all scored as a 1—the most common score received by a good number of schools on Jay’s Index.

The AP is a good test, but its owner, the College Board, is too busy raking in the money from the Challenge Index bonanza to risk turning off the faucet by revealing how many profoundly unprepared students are taking it so their schools can qualify for a place on a meaningless list.

Oh, and Gary’s actual point? He’s right. The turnaround industry is a disgrace.

End rant.

About educationrealist

5 responses to “SAT Snobs

  • Dave

    Like you, and Gary, I agree that the shills who bilk school districts of taxpayer-generated funds while promising to close the district’s achievement gap, as required by NCLB, are heinous.

    I’m less sensitive to errors in statements since he seeks to expose the shysters for what they are…At the same time, facts should be checked before stated so emphatically. As an example, a combined score of 1010 on the old SAT test was never deemed “bad.” I know many people who went off to fine colleges with scores at that level, especially those who scored higher on the verbal section, but still reasonably well on the math. Their combined percentile could easily place them in the top 25% in the nation, or even top 20%. Not to shabby of a place to be.

  • educationrealist

    Hey, you’re right. I didn’t notice that. 1010 wasn’t a “bad” score in the old test, it was a perfectly respectable average score for a comprehensive high school. Good catch.

    Like I said, I don’t care much about the mistaking 600 for 750. My irritation is all about the faux but trendy criticism of the SAT. On the larger issue, Gary is right.

  • Roger

    “See, that’s just irritating. First, the low score is 600 for three sections, not 750. (Low score per section is 200).”

    Random guesses will lead to a 750.

    • Jake

      Roger: They won’t on the SAT, because of the guessing penalty. You get 1 point of raw score for a right answer and lose 1/4 point for a wrong answer. Since there are five answer choices, the expected value of guessing blindly is 0.

  • surfer

    The exact nature of the low score (does it correspond to guessing wrong all the time, or to random) is not so wichtig. (He may even be right on 750 versus 600, but it is not of the essence even if he is wrong.)

    I think criticizing him for the “only signing your name” is also unfair. It’s actually very HELPFUL to point out the baseline, as it is not the intuitive “0”. For example, on Amazon book reviews, it is impossible to give a 0 star review. 1 star is the lowest possible. So any evaluation of ratings needs to take that into account.

    Saying 1010 was a bad score on the old test is just daft. It is above average. That, to me, is a bigger gap. Shows no intuitive feel for the test or previous articles on it. And there must have been a bazillion news stories over the last few years discussing the average score. The other possibility is that he’s being a snob–which would be even worse, shows total lack of empathy/insight to the vast majority of the country that is not Ivy League….as if he thought that were the only relevant bar. But I will be kind and figure he was not that thoughtless, just made a boner on average score.

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