Effectiveness of SAT?

Important study on the usefulness of the SAT, but first, a little background.

Today’s SAT is the direct descendant of the very first IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet test and the Army Alpha and Beta tests devised by Binet, Terman and others about a century ago. (The “A” used to stand for “aptitude”, which is essentially a synonym for “intelligence”, which is what the “I” in “IQ” stood for. Eventually they changed the names a bit and the “A” just means “A”, or so they say.)

All of that means that the SAT has a history that is frankly, not very nice.

From the very beginning, the test results were very much aligned with the amount of family wealth of the person taking the test, and were also hailed for allegedly showing that certain races of people were inferior. The Army IQ tests found that poor Jewish and Italian immigrant draftees in World War 1 who spoke very little English did about almost as poorly as poor Mexican-American or Negro inductees. On the basis of that, various forces “preached the doctrine of Nordic supremacy and agitated to curtail the immigration of Jews and southern Europeans to America.” (Mismeasure of Man, p. 144)

(We should remember that in 1917 and 1918, most of those young Black male draftees had parents and/or grandparents who were held as slaves up until Emancipation during the Civil War, and that it was ILLEGALTO TEACH those slaves TO READ OR WRITE. Not surprising that the children of slaves might not be the best readers in the nation! Let us also remember that about 25 years before World War 1, strict new Jim Crow regulations were enacted and enforced, partly by lynching, to ensure that southern Blacks were essentially forced into slavery by another name.

Nonetheless, the results of those early IQ tests were used to justify the forcible sterilization of many poor people, especially if they were black, hispanic, or American Indians, although there were a lot of very poor southern whites who were also sterilized by court order — again, justified by the results of those racist, classist “mental exams”. (see War Against the Weak )

Let me remind you that it took Binet and Terman and others quite a lot of trial and error to get the results of their tests to come out the way they wanted, with the ‘nice’ kids of wealthy families getting good scores and the poor kids that were universally looked down upon, getting low scores. Many tasks and questions had to be thrown out because the poor kids would do as well as, or better than, the more-advantaged kids on the item or task. (Check out Mismeasure of Man by the late Steven Jay Gould for a fairly readable and not too technical account- and it’s 100% freely available, by permission, online!)

Also as a result of those early IQ tests, the US passed racist and anti-semitic immigration laws that restricted  immigration by Jews, blacks, Asians, and even Europeans who didn’t come from non-“Nordic” countries.

[One forgets that racists tend to change their definitions of the favored groups from era to era – a century ago, European and North American racists would write serious articles about how the ratios of the length and width of the average skull of a nation or group would tell you whether they were going to be of a superior race or not. And believe it or not, being more susceptible to malaria was seen as a sign of SUPERiority rather than the reverse — but only because the European colonizers and imperialists going to tropical areas to exploit the natives tended to get very sick and die from malaria whereas the locals were much more likely to have a blood type that gave them resistance to malaria (complicated story, by the way, which you can read about in Epidemic of Absence by Moises Velasquez Manoff. I highly recommend both of these books!]

How many Jews would have survived Hitler’s extermination camps if there hadn’t been those minuscule quotas on Jews immigrating to the US to escape the Nazis? How many MILLIONS of people would NOT have died in the horrors of World War 2 if Adolf Hitler hadn’t been able to build up his Nazi Stormtroopers both with funds and propaganda from Henry Ford and other American racists and anti-semites? (I’m not exaggerating; Nazis acclaimed Ford as a “mainstay…in their efforts to destroy the Jew”. See here for the quote. page 300)

Fast forward to today.

As I said, the SAT and all of these other NCLB and RTTT and PARCC tests are direct descendants of the original IQ tests, with changes and modifications every so often over the past century.

My claim is that they are used to attack the schools of the poor by closing them down and re-segregating them even more than before into single-ethnicity charter schools, and making it so that no unified, common voice of the poor can arise to fight for improved conditions. Because of the t

Everywhere I or anybody else look(s), we see the same very close correlation between the scores on those tests and the wealth of the families whose children take the tests. I posted some graphs from Westchester County, NY last week, and the R-squared value was about 0.88 — in ordinary language, we can say the two variables of average home price and average test scores were 88% connected — about as strong a connection between two variables as you will ever see in the social sciences.

So, what do the powers-that-be do about this? Do they try to ameliorate the gross disparities between the rich and the poor, by, say, providing universal pre-care and other so-called “wrap-around” services to alleviate some of the demoralizing and dispiriting effects of poverty? Or pushing for unionization of service workers and raising the minimum wage? Or putting actual medical and dental and optical clinics into schools so that kids don’t have to miss entire days of school to fill a cavity, get their immunization shoots, or get glasses or contact lenses? Add after-school programs and meals so that kids can play sports or learn skills or play instruments or enact dramas and musicals or whatever…

No, none of that. That would be socialism, you know.

The educational DEformers of today have a MUCH better idea. (not)

Blame the schools! Blame the teachers! Fire the staff at schools that enroll poor kids (white or black or brown or whatever, but starting off in the inner cities), close those schools down, and turn them over to private corporations with no checks and balances and accountable to nobody, least of all the parents of the kids enrolled there. Deprive the teachers of any voice whatsoever in how the school is run by eliminating the presence of either teachers’ union.  Make the claim that only “excellent” and “highly-qualified” teachers can make a difference by innovating, but then make a practice of hiring totally inexperienced teachers with no training at all, micromanaging their every word, and saddling them with scripted lessons and never-ending busywork in gathering and displaying useless data… That the teachers are in fact no longer able to come with a repertory of lessons that are ‘outside the box’ before they burn out and quit or else get fired for falling afoul of the results of the roulette wheel we call Value Added Measurement (VAM). Claim that teachers shouldn’t teach to the test, but make it so that the entire school year becomes test prep. Pretend that the new group of privatizing chancellors have much better results than before.

Then you actually look at the results and you see that the chancellors have no clothes.

The results are the same before all these reforms as after all these “rhee”forms.

I have documented this numerous times in this blog over the past 55 months. Just enter “NAEP” into the search box at the top of this page – you will get lots and lots of articles with graphs showing how they have been doing in DC and elsewhere.

In my latest posts, I looked at Erich Martel’s data on the erosion of the high school classes in Washington DC in the regular public high schools and in the high schools run by boutique or chain charters. Despite what you may have heard in Washington Post headlines and editorials, the attrition rates in both types of schools are just about identical. And high.

In BOTH cases, about 45% of the students somehow disappear between 9th grade and 12th grade.

(Where they go, you and I have only a general idea but there are no detailed statistics to share. It would take years of work to find out where they went, if OSSE were to cooperate on data requests AND if I had nothing else to do with my life AND if could hire a bunch of assistants — none of which is about to happen.)

But in any case, that data puts the lie to the frequent claim that charter schools somehow achieve 100% graduation rates with the same kids.

(And anyway, these are NOT the same kids — parents of charter school children actually have to decide to apply to the school and then follow all of the steps required to enroll (sometimes very difficult steps, sometimes not so hard, but there are some steps) and we know that there are many fewer ESL students and special education students. I’ve shown that the charter schools in DC routinely shed about 6% of their population from September to April, despite their protestations to the contrary, enough to weed out enough various types of trouble-makers and to make an impression on the other students. Public schools are increasingly prohibited from taking virtually any disciplinary measures against students, whereas DC’s charter schools have suspension and expulsion rates roughly ten times as high as do the regular public schools. All documented, not made up.)

So, in essence, after all that turmoil, all that dismantlement of the public schools, all those teachers fired, and education in most schools, charter and private, being turned into boring, scripted test-prep and a confusing Common Core curriculum, with fewer enrichment activities and more time taken for test preparation, has produced bupkis (באָבקעס in Yiddish) and which comes from Slavic words meaning “goat droppings” — very appropriate.

Many parents – including relatively low-income families living in Anacostia and my neighborhood (Brookland) —  get on the lottery to enroll in charter schools if they think that their local public school has too many poor kids who are going to act poorly in class and score poorly on tests, because they see it as impossible to improve the resources at their local school. In wealthier regions families often raise large sums so that the local PTA can supplement the school budget to hire staff or improve facilities and fund after-school activities that are impossible in poor neighborhoods.

(My wife and I made the decision to send our kids to DC public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Going to schools as a minority white kid wasn’t the worst thing that could happen! When he was younger, my son would tell me stories of how the kids he knew who went to the private schools simply knew nothing about life in the inner cities. He now runs a small business as a gym owner in Georgetown called The Body You Want, and his sister works in the film industry behind the scenes and lives with her husband in the SF Bay Area. I even have a wonderful 8-month old grand-daughter courtesy of my daughter-in-law…)

When we look at the NAEP scores in DC and other cities, we see that they pretty much lie on a straight line from the mid-1990s to the present. A line that slants upwards to the right. In other words, the scores were increasing for black and hispanic students in DC starting about 10 years before Michelle Rhee was anointed Chancellor*.

(Thanks to good reporting at USA today, we also know that some of those bonuses were won by out-and-out cheating, most famously at Noyes elementary not too far from my house, but in hundreds of other schools as well.)

We know that the statistics on Advanced Placement scores in DC’s public and charter schools are still dismal.

We have seen charter schools run nearly like private banks for some of their founders — a chance for a well-connected few to raid the public treasury and deprive their students

All of that mean-spirited and hypoocritical activity on the part of the billionaires and their educational foundations does not come in the overt and mean-spirited language of a century ago


Finally: how useful is the SAT in predicting how well a person will do? Well, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you have very high scores, you’ll be more likely to get into a higher-ranked college and to be offered scholarships rather than loans, and you are also more likely to have parents who can pay the rest of your college bill, so you aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt upon graduation. Your classmates’ parents are more likely to have connections through which you can get hired at a good job that actually pays good money (rather than having to do a few years of unpaid internships to land an entry-level job at low pay and no advancement).

There is a big difference between having very high test scores and having other skills that end up being more important in the real world. (I mean, I like math and calculus, but how many jobs out there really require the constant use of differential or integral calculus? Some, but not very many!) Much more important are personal qualities like steadfastness, determination, ability to get along with other people and to motivate them to do well at a common task, independence, and problem-solving ability.

A study has shown this by looking at life results of students who did, or did not, submit SAT scores to the colleges and universities they were applying to from high school. We can assume that those students who did NOT submit their scores had, in fact, seen their scores and thought that those scores were going to hurt their chances of being admitted. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that they had, or would have had, lower SAT scores than the applicants who DID submit their SAT scores.

Results? Basically, no difference in life results between the high-scorers and the low-scorers. To Quote from the abstract:

Non-submitters are more likely to be first-generation-to-college students, minorities, Pell Grant recipients, women and students with Learning Differences …

Few significant differences between submitters and non-submitters of testing were observed in Cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, despite significant differences in SAT/ACT scores.




* She was anointed by Adrian Fenty on the advice of  Joel Klein, despite her obviously faked resume claims of achieving miracles (that she later admitted were made up, too) and her utter lack of experience running a school. Most of the principals she hired are gone, though she claimed to the press that she was able to divine the inner traits of every interviewee in just a few minutes. She fires hundreds of veteran teachers using a completely phony budget crisis to make an end-run around any contractual provisions, and then suddenly “found” money to hire a bunch of lower-paid, less-experienced teachers just a couple of months later. She even managed to corrupt the head of the teachers’ union into going over to the other side and signing away any contractual protections for teachers from arbitrary firings in exchange for phantom bonuses.



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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I share your disgust with the decisionmakers who are motivated by wanton greed. In Ohio, we are subjected to something new called OTES. Student scores account for 50% of the evaluation, as calculated by some bizarre-looking value added formula that no one understands and no one can explain. If only the voters would understand that school is not and never should be a business! Meanwhile Governor Kasich and his cronies are preparing to tie all teachers to chairs and throw us into a river. The ones who drown will be presumed innocent. The floaters will be burned at the stake. I speak figuratively of course. My plan for survival is to pay off as much debt as I can and resign in 2 years. Which is a damned shame because I am a decent teacher who is loved by my students, their families, my coworkers, and my principal. I have nothing to hide but I refuse to live under the constant threats and the insane pressure. I think my soul will be better off because what I see coming at CHILDREN in the near future is wickedness in the name of some obscure number. Thanks for your work and the opportunity to vent.


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