20 June 2016

College Board logic

The following passage is excerpted from a recent College Board press release: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/one-year-since-launch-official-sat-practice-on-khan-academy-is-leveling-the-playing-field-for-students-300278934.html.

A year ago today, Official SAT® Practice for the new SAT went live on KhanAcademy.org, making free, world-class, personalized online practice available for all students. There are now more than 1.4 million unique users on Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy — this represents four times the total population of students who use all commercial test prep classes in a year combined. Data show that the practice platform is reaching students across race, ethnicities, and income levels — mirroring the percentage of SAT takers. Almost half of all SAT takers on March 5 used Official SAT Practice to prepare, causing a 19 percent drop in the number of students who paid for SAT prep resources.

 

Which of the following would most directly undermine the College Board’s assertion that the number of students using Official SAT Practice was responsible for the 19 percent decline in the number of students paying for SAT prep resources? 

(A) Providers of SAT prep resources have begun offering low-cost preparation programs in order to more effectively compete with Khan Academy.
(B) Students who sign up for free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy typically use that platform as their exclusive resource for SAT prep.
(C) The number of students who took the SAT this year was larger than the number of students who took the SAT in recent years. 
(D) Students who in the past would have taken the SAT and paid for SAT prep resources instead took the ACT and paid for ACT prep resources. 
(E) More students registered for free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy than registered for the paid prep previously offered by the College Board. 

(Scroll down for the answer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer: D

Virtually every experienced tutor I’ve heard from has made a concerted effort to steer students toward the ACT this year. Furthermore, families who pay for test-prep also tend to be savvy enough to want their children to prep for an exam that is a known entity, and for which a substantial body of authentic practice material exists, and to not be offered up as guinea pigs.

The decision to use the SAT as a state graduation test also provides a possible explanation for the alleged drop in paid test prep. I’ve heard from other sources that non-required SAT registration was actually down by about 20% this year. It therefore stands to reason that a significant percentage of the students taking rSAT were students who would not have taken the test, had they not be required to do so by their schools. This is a major shift in the test-taking population, and it makes comparisons between the pre-March 2016 group and the post-March 2016 group very difficult. The students taking the test only because of a school requirement would almost certainly not have paid for test preparation in the first place.

If the College Board’s statistics are correct (and based on recent revelations, there’s considerable reason to question whether that is in fact that case), it seems likely that a combination of factors produced the drop. There are undoubtedly many students who are using Khan Academy exclusively, but 1) many of those students would not have paid for test prep in previous years anyway; and 2) some of those students will not meet their goals through Khan prep alone and will sign up for a class or decide to work with a tutor. Summer is when both of those things are most likely to happen, also calling spring statistics regarding paid prep into question. Given the extent to which Khan was touted, it also seems reasonable to assume that more students deliberately waited for their scores before deciding whether to opt for paid prep. 

Never mind the fact that registering as a “unique user” on Khan in no way indicates that a student will use the site for the type of consistent, sustained study required for improvement, or even that they’ll ever bother to log in again. Some students certainly will use its offerings to maximum advantage, but again, those are the super-focused self-starters who would have worked on their own regardless. And they are a very small minority. (Note to tech geniuses: the fact that you had the drive to sit yourself down at the age of 16 and teach yourself calculus for fun does not mean that the average 16 year-old non-tech genius can do the same.)

ETS may have its problems, but at least its employees tend to understand the very basics of logic, like, oh, say, the difference between correlation and causation. 

It’s statements like these that really force one to question the College Board’s ability to produce a reasoning test. 

3 Responses

  1. Dan Lipford

    Erica –

    It’s even worse than you’re presenting it to be.

    “…causing a 19 percent drop in the number of students who paid for SAT prep resources.”

    Paid whom for?

    Exactly when did the College Board poll ALL OF THE MANY ENTITIES that sell “SAT prep resources” (i.e., all forms of media and all forms of tutoring), and exactly when did those entities – virtually all of them private and highly unlikely to freely (if at all) disclose sales and/or enrollment data – fully cooperate with the CB so that the CB could make that unequivocal statement?

    You remember them contacting you for that info, don’t you? Neither do we.

    Perhaps the CB is basing its statement on its own sales of SAT prep guides, but there’s no way it can possibly know what it’s claiming to know.

  2. Usman

    Hi Erica
    I tutor SAT in Pakistan and am a huge fan of yours. Outside US the test seems more challenging to our students since they hardly have any background knowledge of American history. I for one have experienced a significant increase in class size this year.

    1. admin

      That certainly makes a lot of sense. It’s very interesting, though: if you look at the GMAT as a point of comparison, it’s deliberately been made less US-centric in recent years, as more international students and schools take/accept it. The fact that the SAT is going in the opposite direction seems to indicate that either the potential effects of the test changes on international students were not particularly well thought out, or that the right-wing contingent within the College Board has more pull than most people realize (or possibly both factors at once).

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