College Board

Update on the New PSAT

Update on the New PSAT

On March 24th the College Board (CB) released a sample of its new PSAT ,along with a detailed answer key, on its website. The new, redesigned PSAT will premiere October 14th and is the first taste of the revamped SAT scheduled to be administered on 5 March 2016. 

The PSAT, which will continue to be used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test (NMSQT) by junior test takers, is a departure from the PSAT of 2014.

More than an SAT Score

On April 16th the College Board released sample questions from the 2016 ‘New’ SAT which were received with much fanfare by the SAT test-training world.

The questions and new essay format, though curriculum based and seemingly ‘more relevant’, still measure convergent thinking: the ability to assess multiple strands of information to arrive at one best answer. Convergent thinking alone, however, does not measure a student’s creativity or intellectual curiosity. To gain a fuller picture of a student’s creative capacity, measuring divergent thinking, the ability to develop multiple approaches to a problem, needs to be included.

One measure of divergent thinking is the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT). The Torrance test was developed by Paul Torrance in the 1950s and includes questions that encourage a multiple of responses, such as how many uses are there for maple syrup or what type of world would there be without electricity?

Divergent thinking skills measured by the Torrance test are a much better indicator of creative achievement in art, music, writing, science, government and business than IQ tests are. Back in the 1950s Torrance performed his own study over a period of seven years across every student attending two Minnesota elementary schools. The students took the TTCT every year along with a traditional IQ test. In 1999, when these scores were reviewed, the divergent thinking scores were three times more effective at measuring creative achievement as compared to IQ test metrics.

Creativity, however, is just one variable in college success and beyond. In 1983 Torrance also pulled together a list of other characteristics that were ‘consistently better predictors of creative achievement, far surpassing virtually all aspects of scholastic achievement, even school grades and IQ test scores.’  The key characteristic according to Torrance is “falling in love with something—your dream, your image of the future.”

Once a person has become passionate about achieving something, other characteristics emerge including ‘love of work’ (once you’ve fallen in love with something, pursuing it is no longer work); ‘persistence’ as now you’re pursuing something that spiritually demands achievement; ‘purpose in life’; diversity of experience; high energy; creative self-concept (self-identity); risk taking; openness to change; and becoming accustomed to non-conformity, or ‘being a majority of one.’ Composites of these characteristic are found to regularly outweigh IQ Tests or Divergent Thinking in lifelong creative achievement.

Consequently, a means of measuring long-term creative achievement is needed. Scott Barry Kaufman in his Scientific American 12 March 2014 article, ‘Imagining a New College Entrance Examination,’ analyzed the limits of convergent, divergent thinking and concluded both, by their very natures, limit the multiple paths ‘to intellectual achievement’. His recommendation is that students, from the first day of high school, develop a portfolio of achievement. In it they can place anything that shows imagination, originality, intellectual curiosity, how they led a class or interpreted a theory…this, in effect, would recreate their achievements and share with the admissions office what they deem important. In short, make a case as to why they are college ready.

This might be perceived as overwhelming to some admissions offices, but the best colleges already do this to some degree. Harvard’s supplement to the Common Application contains an essay prompt asking to tell it something that hasn’t already been mentioned somewhere else in your application—it also asks for an abstract of any independent research conducted. Bard College offers an innovative online essay exam. RISD requires a candidate submit a drawing of a bicycle, and each UC Application contains two personal statements totaling 1000 words (UCLA alone read over 85,000 such applications this last admissions cycle.) 

The point is most schools, to truly evaluate a candidate, cannot rely on standardized tests—simple performance markers from a specific place and time. Whether the New SAT takes hold and gains mandates from states is almost immaterial. It’s merely another form of measuring convergent thinking. Your true measure is the actions you take and the activities you perform throughout your high school career and your life.  

 

The Proposed Redesign of the SAT

2012 proved to be a challenging year for the College Board and its SAT.

For the first time since the SAT’s inaugural administration in 1926, another test, the ACT, was administered to more students. Though the ACT nosed ahead by a mere 2,000 students, the repercussions are still reverberating throughout the College Board headquarters in New York City. By fall of last year, the College Board had selected a new president, David Coleman. By February, Coleman wrote to his fellow board members: “While the SAT is the best standardized measure of college and career readiness currently available, the College Board has a responsibility to the millions of students we serve each year to ensure that our programs are continuously evaluated and enhanced…” (www.insidehighered.com, 10 April 2013, College Board Announces Plans to Redesign the SAT by Scott Jaschik)

No specifics were given.

The last, and only time, the SAT was overhauled was in 2005, when it discarded the analogy section and added the writing section, at the request of the University of California.

By 2008, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) released a report suggesting colleges should reconsider the need for standardized tests. Over the same period of time, over 80 additional 4-year colleges adopted test-optional or test flexible policies. Today over 38% of all four-year colleges are either test flexible or test optional and the list contains such highly selective schools as Middlebury, NYU, and Wake Forest.

Obviously the 2005 overhaul did not effectively qualm the concerns of the test-taking market. This was reflected most starkly in the comments by Robert Schaeffer, the director of Fair Test and an inveterate critic of the SAT: “…the previous attempt to create a ‘new Coke’ was rejected by the marketplace, so it became necessary to ‘reformulate’ the product once again in order to remain competitive with the ACT.” (Ibid.)

Though we can only speculate at what the new SAT will be like, there are a few clues as to what might lie ahead.

David Coleman who attended Yale, studied English literature at Oxford on a Rhodes and co-founded, in 2007, the Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization involved in developing Common Core standards, appears intent on incorporating these Common Core standards into the SAT. (A Common Standard for reading at the 11-12th grade level, for example, would be, “Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development.” The full suite of Common Core standards can be found at http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/R.) He wrote in his College Board February missive: “The improved SAT will strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills that evidence shows are most important to prepare students for the rigors of college and career.”

That, however, is what the ACT has been doing for decades with its ‘College Readiness Standards’ across its entire suite of tests: EXPLORE, PLAN, and the ACT. When hearing of the proposed SAT redesign, a spokesman for the ACT commented that the, “ACT was founded 54 years ago because ETS and College Board rejected EF Lindquist’s proposal to change the SAT from an aptitude test to an achievement test. Dr. Lindquist, along with co-founder Ted McCarrell subsequently decided to develop his own achievement test, which became the ACT in 1959…” (Ibid.)

Coleman, in a 2011 speech at the Brookings Institute, prior to his becoming president of the College Board, also noted weaknesses in the essay portion of the SAT. Rather than allow students to blithely supply their own examples he felt source examples should be added for students to review and edit to make their arguments more cogent and exacting.  

Another redesign within eight years of its last overhaul indicates the SAT is undergoing an identity crisis. Initially, the SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test. The IQ association, and the scorn that brought, led the College Board to change the acronym to Scholastic Assessment Test. Now it’s just the SAT. Possibly in the future it will mirror the ACT—which makes you wonder whether test-takers will then clamor for SAT Classic.

With this redesign, the College Board will lose much more than a quarter point if it makes the wrong choice.   

 

Borrowing for College

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry”-Polonius, Hamlet I, iii

To pay for college, most students have to borrow. In 2012, the average student graduated with over $26,000 of debt. That would buy a 2014 Subaru Forester sport utility 2.5i and still leave enough money to tour the Rockies for a month. All told, total college debt amounts to over a trillion dollars, and it is relentlessly rising.

College borrowing outstrips credit card debt, and as this mountain of debt accumulates, one in five households now carry student debt, so rises the default rate. According to Bloomberg Business Week (September 29th, 2012) 11% of public school and 7.5% of private students are defaulting on their student loans. This is a scary proposition because most student loans are difficult to discharge, even in bankruptcy.

Obviously the best course is to avoid loans altogether. If you haven’t dived into the admissions process yet, keep in mind that it’s worth your while to find colleges which are affordable. One affordability litmus test is to first estimate your effective family contribution (EFC) to get a sense of what colleges are expecting you to pay. The College Board has an online calculator where you can do this, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/paying-your-share/expected-family-contribution-calculator#efc_status.

Then go to each of your college’s financial aid sites, find its ‘net price calculator,’ and use it to calculate your cost of attendance (subtracting potential aid awards). If your EFC is less than your COA, you qualify for need based financial aid; however, this doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get any.

If, academically, you find yourself in the 75th percentile of an entering college class (in terms of GPA and test scores), most colleges are going to figure out a way to get you to enroll—that’s when their wallets open. A strong academic track record is your best means for getting subsidized. If you’re a borderline applicant, they might not offer much. 

Then the landscape of loans must be surveyed and considered. The best loans are federal student loans. Stafford direct subsidized loans (which are usually reserved for students from low income families) are at interest rates well below commercial banking rates. Better still the government pays interest on the loan while the student is enrolled. Loan repayments do not begin until 6 months after graduation. A student, however, over four years can borrow only $31,000 through this source.

There are unsubsidized Stafford loans in which repayment begins when the loan is disbursed, federal direct loans, and Federal Plus loans, which currently have interest rate at 7.9% and a 4% fee depending on the amount of the loan.

Federal Plus loans (aka Parent Plus Loans) can cover up to the total cost of attendance (COA) at an institution. These should be compared to home equity loans (in which you will be able to deduct interest charges.) Additionally, if you’re looking among commercial loans, take the time to apply for multiple loans through a site such as Alltuition.com. or Finaid.org. The key, as in most ventures in life, is to create as many options as possible. With borrowing money this is even more important because various terms, interest rates, and fees can affect the total price of the loan by thousands of dollars.  

Be aware that many colleges have merit-based scholarships. Often, once your application is accepted, the school will let you know about opportunities, but just as often, they won’t. One place to uncover potential merit aid is at www.meritaid.com. For example, at University of Pacific in Stockton, Meritaid.com lists 32 scholarships. This could defray some of the loan burdens.

As with any effort, the more knowledge you have about your financial aid situation, and the alternative need-based and merit-based grants and scholarships, and the array of loans, and their pitfalls, the better you will negotiate the college financial aid process. Always question college financial aid offices about anything you don’t understand. Furthermore, if something is proposed that doesn’t make intuitive sense, seek an expert—and a number of them can be discovered online. Learn the ropes so that you’re not left hanging with an exorbitant, onerous load of debt upon graduation.

The Benefits and Limits of Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

Some students in preparation for the challenges of college take four AP courses junior year, and another four or five senior year. Invariably, this makes for late nights studying, even cramming, although for many, this sometimes translates into delving into the subject and gaining a solid sense of the material. Whatever the motivation for joining a AP classes, it’s worth knowing how they’re perceived and used beyond high school.  

Having a number of AP courses on a transcript, and getting either a ‘4’ or ‘5’ (5 being the highest score achievable) on the exams, besides showing a student capable of college level work, can save money and possibly even generate scholarships. Many universities award credit for AP courses. Though, according to Trevor Parker, senior vice president for AP at College Board, gaining college credit was never the original intent of the AP program. Rather, it was to develop college academic skills at the high school level. In any case, the College Board website contains details of how colleges award credits for AP exams:

http://collegesearch.collegeboard.com/apcreditpolicy/index.jsp.

If a student matriculates into Yale, for example, with a score of ‘5’ in AP Chemistry, Biology, English Language, and a ‘4’ in AP Calculus BC, French, and Computer Science, she will be able to begin her Yale career with 8 credits, just two shy of entering as a sophomore; this is the equivalent of saving on 4/5’s of an academic year, which represents a savings of around $40,000. She’d also be able to accelerate into more advanced biology, chemistry, and other subjects. The downside is, should she apply to medical school, say, Keck Medical School at USC, and she doesn’t have college level introductory biology and chemistry, she would have to take those courses before she can enter medical school. Consequently, the benefits of gaining AP credit and accelerating, in those subjects, would be nullified.

Furthermore, there are discrepancies, even among the top schools, in how credits are awarded. For example, to get credit for AP Biology at Northwestern or Yale requires a ‘5’; at UC Berkeley credit is given for a ‘3’.

Moreover, there is growing doubt among universities about the rigor, content, and especially, the depth of the AP courses. Dartmouth just announced, beginning with the class of 2018, it will no longer grant credit for AP test scores. An independent experiment conducted by Dartmouth’s psychology department took all the Dartmouth freshmen who had received a ‘5’ in psychology and administered them the final from Dartmouth’s intro psychology course. 90% of the students failed. Dartmouth then monitored the students who failed the exam and then elected to take intro psychology: Dartmouth found that these students neither did better than classmates who had never taken AP Psychology, or those who had received below a ‘5’ on the AP test.   Yale, by the way, offers no credit for AP Exams in psychology or history.

Beyond the credit issue, students who take AP exams are eligible for certain scholarships. Siemens awards top students who have taken math and science exams and scored a ‘5’ on at least two of them. There are also a number of AP Scholar awards, http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/scholarawards.html.

Though the admissions offices like to see AP classes on applicant transcripts, high numbers of such classes don’t necessarily lead to admissions. One student, several years ago, took over 16 AP exams: she was rejected roundly at most of highly selective schools she applied to. Yes, admissions offices want students who are academically capable, but they also seek balance, and too many AP classes and exams are anything but.

AP courses are designed to be a means of rigorously delving into 34 different subjects (details of each can be found at the College Board’s new AP Website, ‘Explore AP,’ http://apstudent.collegeboard.org/exploreap): anything else they deliver is pure gravy.    

SAT in Amherst, Massachusetts for a mere $4,495

SAT will be administered August 3, 2012 in Amherst, Massachusetts for a mere $4,495

When Henry Chauncey launched the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in 1947, which was and still is today, the exclusive test creation service for the College Board’s SAT, he was firmly convinced that he and his brilliant social engineers would revolutionize student assessment.

Chauncey believed that the creation of a standardized test would help sort out the most promising students, and would be “the moral equivalent of religion but based on reason and science rather than on sentiments and tradition.” (p. 68-69 The Big Test, Nicholas Lemann, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2000)     

What Chauncey sought to create was a world of meritocracy based upon the SAT. The years have proven this goal to be elusive. The organization Fair Test, which consists of over 850 four-year colleges including Wake Forest, Smith College, Hamilton College and Middlebury, make standardized test submission optional in their admissions decisions. What has happened over the last week might entice other colleges to join the Fair Test ranks.  An announcement by the National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT) confirmed a groundbreaking “partnership between NSGT University Prep and the College Board.”

The NSGT will offer a three-week intensive SAT program in Amherst College this August for the price of $4,495. At the conclusion of the program a special August 3rd administration of the SAT will be offered. Only students enrolled in the NSGT program will be able to take this August SAT. The College Board has never allowed a mid-summer administration of the SAT. Nor has it ever administered an SAT that restricted access to only those who are in a special test prep program.  

For those who have had to submit to the tortures of taking the SAT in June or October (either during finals, or in the midst of taking four AP Courses during senior year) what a luxury it would be to focus solely on the SAT after an intense 3 weeks of constant review, and take the test on August 3rd. To make this preferential treatment even more questionable, the College Board has decided, so that the colleges cannot identify this special set of August test takers among its applicant pool, to report that the test was administered on 2 June 2012.

Joseph Soares, a professor of Sociology at Wake Forest, and the author of several books including SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions that led Wake Forest to become a test-optional school, stated bluntly that the partnership between NSGT and the College Board “exposes the hypocrisy of the College Board’s rhetoric about the SAT being a fair way to democratize and expand access to higher education.”

HECA, the Higher Education Consultants Association, to which I and 647 other college counselors belong, sent off a message to the College Board requesting it reconsider its decision to offer an August test date to a select few at the Amherst test prep program. The note concludes by mentioning, “We consider this a matter of fairness, equity, and ultimately, access.”