Posts published in December, 2010

ACT Reading Speed Is Faster Than SAT To Obtain A High Score

This in response by guest blogger Michele Kerr to the prior blog concerning the SAT reading assessment.. Kerr has been a public high school teacher and test prep instructor for college admissions tests.

I found the subject matter of your last two posts ironic, in that the complaint about “speed reading” for the SAT is juxtaposed with the ACT’s report on “college readiness”. As usual, the SAT is the object of critical scrutiny, much of it unfair, while the ACT is ignored, for both better and worse.

The SAT has three reading sections, 67 questions in 70 minutes. 19 of those questions are sentence completions, 48 are questions on 8 reading passages–4 short passages of 100 words, with one long one of 850 words. The total word count is about 2800. The sentence completions require 3 to 5 minutes (sections have 5, 6, or 8 SCs), allowing 15-20 minutes per section for answering 13-17 questions on 2-3 passages. That’s plenty of time for even the weakest reader to finish.

The ACT, while a much better test overall, has absurd time constraints on its reading and science sections. Testers have 35 minutes  to complete 4 750-word passages with 10 questions each–just 8.5 minutes per passage, 3000 total words.   The science section has seven passage of complex reading and figure interpretation to be completed in 35 minutes–just five minutes per passage.

When I coach low income, struggling students, I always used the ACT instead of the SAT because students could more easily decipher the questions. But I know that many of their scores would have been much higher had they a bit more time per section. I would often see students complete two or three reading sections with a fair degree of accuracy, but not have time to finish the test. The ACT would report them as “not ready for college” when in fact their reading speed is simply not equal to that of top students–while their reading comprehension is perfectly adequate.

The ACT  could be so much better if it allowed ten minutes more each on the reading and science sections (and ten minutes on the math wouldn’t hurt). It’s half an hour shorter than the SAT and has over 60 more questions, so there’s no reason they couldn’t tack on another twenty minutes. Contrary to received wisdom, the ACT is not an easier test, and giving additional time would not ease the considerable difficulty of its hardest questions. The math test asks trig questions, always has a complex number (i) question, and the occasional ellipse and matrix question, while the SAT barely tiptoes into second year algebra.  Unlike the SAT, however, ACT questions are relatively uncomplicated. The student reads the question and can move directly to figuring out the answer (which is often quite difficult). SAT questions in both reading and math are abstract and “front loaded” with difficulty–it takes cognitive skill just to figure out what the question is asking. Additional time isn’t going to help.

If SAT testers were given an additional 15 minutes per section, I predict that scores would not noticeably improve. If ACT testers were given an additional 15 minutes per section, my sense is that reading, science, and math scores in the bottom percentiles would see a good-sized bump.

If the purpose of the test is to sort out the fast thinkers, then fine. But the ACT purports to test college readiness, and its declarations about what college applicants are and aren’t prepared to do simply aren’t credible, in light of the severe time constraints. And it makes no sense at all to complain about the SAT’s time requirements, which simply aren’t onerous for even the weakest skilled students.

Researcher Criticizes SAT Emphasis on Speed Reading

In Praise of Slow Reading
by Thomas Newkirk
This commentary argues against the high valuation schools place on reading speed, particularly on high sakes tests like the SAT. In penalizing slower readers, these and other tests put at a disadvantage students who approach their reading in a deliberate and thorough way. The ideal should not be speed but the tiempo guisto, the pace at which we are most attentive and effective-and this pace will vary depending on the individual and the task.

Source: Teachers College Record on line

ACT Study Shows Most Students Cannot Meet Standards For College Success

Most students have far to go before they master the skills and knowledge outlined in the new common standards, concludes an ACT Inc. report. The study found that only one-third to one-half of 11th graders are proficient in the content and skills that the common core standards specify as necessary in math and English/language arts for access to good jobs or success in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses.  Forty states have now approved the common core standards, but implementation will be difficult.

Study Finds Complex Patterns In College Grading Of Students

Grading in American Colleges and Universities
by Stuart Rojstaczer & Christopher Healy
Here we report on historical and recent grading patterns at American four-year colleges and universities. Records of average grades show that since the 1960s, grading has evolved in an ad hoc way into identifiable patterns at the national level. The mean grade point average of a school is highly dependent on the average quality of its student body and whether it is public or private. Relative to other schools, public-commuter and engineering schools grade harshly. Superimposed on these trends is a nationwide rise in grades over time of roughly 0.1 change in GPA per decade. These trends may help explain why private school students are disproportionately represented in Ph.D. study in science and engineering and why they tend to dominate admission into the most prestigious professional schools. They also may help explain why undergraduate students are increasingly disen gaged from learning and why the US has difficulty filling its employment needs in engineering and technology.

Source: Teachers College Record On Line

The Risks Of Placing Underprepared Students In AP Courses

Below is a provocative op ed by Michele Kerr who cautions about the placement policies concerning AP in some high schools. AP enrollment has soared over the past 15 years.

Colleges Try To Increase Graduation Rates By Bringing Back Former Students

Bringing Adults Back to College: Designing and Implementing a Statewide Concierge Model
This brief details efforts by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and their work with six states – Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota and South Dakota – to identify students who have earned a substantial amount of college credits but have not returned to complete their degree.

California Legislators Wants More Control Over University of California System

California Legislature Wants a Say in Public University Budgets
Angered by student tuition hikes at California’s public universities and colleges, lawmakers are pursuing legislation that would give them broad new powers over how the higher education systems spend taxpayer money. The proposals include measures to limit student fees, freeze executive compensation and increase budget transparency, and even a constitutional amendment that would strip the University of California of its historic autonomy.  The UC system has had considerable flexibilty compared to prior state control of the community colleges. Source :ECS.

Higher Education Needs To Become More Involved In k-12 College Ready Content Standards

Making P-16 Meaningful
A partnership between the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the State Higher Education Executive Officers aims to connect higher education leaders with K-12 officials to help the Common Cores Standards Initiative succeed. The focus will be on two key tasks: aligning the standards with college admission and placement requirements and standards; and ensuring that colleges better prepare K-12 teachers who can help their students meet the standards.  Common Core has been mostly a k-12 enterprise with subject matter college professors. This is a spur to get the institutional leaders in higher education involved.

Indiana May Give Colleges Grades On Their Graduation Rates

Ind. Lawmakers expected to grade state universities on graduation success

When reform-minded state legislators start looking at how to dole out education dollars next month, the K-12 public schools won’t be the only ones under pressure to produce results. Indiana’s state-funded colleges and universities will also come under scrutiny in ways they’ve never faced before. This state report card for each school seems to be spreading from k-12 to postsecondary education? Given the different context of colleges from k-12 is this is a good idea?

College Completion Will Lag Without Better Leadership At All Levels

From Gay Clyburn of Carnegie Foundation:

Between them, Patrick M. Callan, Jane Wellman and Dennis P. Jones have seen close-up plenty of incomplete and unsuccessful efforts to improve higher education. And as veterans of the higher education policy landscape, they have well-developed reputations as — depending on your perspective — constructive critics or never satisfied “lamenters.” The latest exhortation from these three wise people of higher education policy and their organizations — the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (Callan), the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability (Wellman), and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (Jones) — is likely to reinforce those reputations. In a report published today in the public policy center’s National CrossTalk the three groups argue that the lofty college completion goal that has emerged as the closest thing to a national higher education strategy in a half century will not succeed without much more aggressive leadership than national, state and higher education leaders have shown so far.