11 August 2016

The College Board’s useless SAT reports

The following was sent to me by a colleague, a longtime teacher and tutor who runs her own business; I’m posting it here with her permission. Keep in mind that the College Board has repeatedly touted “transparency” (ha!) as one of the key features of the SAT redesign. 

I have a student who scored in the 400’s on her  June SAT. Thought I’d look at her report (granted, not a queestion-and-answer service report) online to see what areas need work. This is what I got.

Your score indicates that you are already likely able to:

  • Select the most appropriate data display that represents the relationship between two variables (PSD)
  • Select an appropriate graphical representation of a context (PSD)
  • Interpret data represented in a graph (PSD)
  • Create an expression or equation in one variable that models a context (HOA)
  • Create a linear function that models a context (HOA)
  • Create a linear equation in two variables that models a context
  • Solve a linear equation in one variable (HOA)
  • Create a ratio based on a context and use the rate to solve a problem (PSD)

PSD (Problem-Solving and Data Analysis)

This component of the SAT focuses on the assessment of students’ ability to use ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning, as well as describe graphical relationships and analyze data. The Problem Solving and Data Analysis score is the number of questions you answered correctly converted to a scale score. It is a separately scaled score and is not used to compute other scores.

HoA (Heart of Algebra)

This component of the SAT focuses on the assessment of students’ skills with linear equations and systems of linear equations. The Heart of Algebra score is the number of questions you answered correctly converted to a scale score. It is a separately scaled score and is not used to compute other scores.

Improve your skills by focusing on the following suggestions:

  • Make connections between algebraic, graphical, tabular, and verbal representations of linear functions. When given one representation, be able to create any of the other representations.
  • Use the relationship between variables shown on a graph to make predictions and conclusions given a context
  • When multiplying polynomials, first examine the expression for structure and then follow the order of operations.
  • When factoring polynomials, look for relationships that allow the use of the difference of two squares, the square of a binomial, and quadratic trinomials.
  • Use what you know about factoring and the zero product property to solve quadratic equations.

Seriously?  If a student is scoring in the 400s on math, how can s/he be expected to understand most of that education-speak? And how is a parent supposed to help?

Granted, I didn’t major in math, but I teach it all the time and I still feel like I need to translate from a foreign language when I read this. It also irritates me that there is not a little bit more *obvious* information, such as how many questions did the student miss on the no-calculator section and how many on the calculator-allowed. Instead, they put the two sections together. 

In my student’s case, I suspect that it is the no-calculator allowed section that she’s struggling with – but I only think this because her PSAT score report tells me that she missed almost all of the no-calculator questions, while she answered well over half of the calculator allowed questions. This then led me to realize that she has a lot of trouble adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions (which would be easy to do on a calculator). 

Glad to have all the questions, student answers, and correct answers on PSAT, but even something relatively basic like number of questions right/wrong/skipped per section would be helpful (they USED to provide this!). 

And then a little bit later…

I just looked at another report (different student whose parent wanted me to give them an idea of what he should be focusing on) and the jargon went on for pages.  The problem is that it is not just useless – it’s WORSE than useless. It purports to be informational and “level the playing field” and all that. But in actuality, it reinforces a feelings of helplessness and marginalization among those with less access to sources of help.  In other words, the College Board lies. It makes all these claims – work hard in school and use our free resources – and that’s all you need! It’s only those (few) in the know and those with the resources to pay people like you and me that actually know the truth.

And just to kill the dead horse a bit more, I even looked at Khan Academy to see how well the “partnership” would serve my students. *sigh* I got frustrated trying to find efficient, pointed help for specific math problems and wound up on the FAQs page. No exaggeration – 12 of the 20 questions on the page admit to the program’s failings.
 
  • We don’t have a way for teachers and coaches to view their students’ progress in Official SAT Practice. We are planning to add ways…
  • We’re working on making your SAT practice activity show up there and also planning to add…
  • We don’t currently have a way for you to switch to questions from an earlier level without your intentionally missing questions…
  • We don’t currently have a way for you to instantly switch what level….
  • We do not currently have videos or articles about the essay but will be adding those. We are also investigating ways to score…
  • In the diagnostic quizzes, you can tell the system you’re guessing, but you’re right, you can’t currently do that in other places. This is on our list of things to add.
  • Sorry, there’s not a way to reset your diagnostic quizzes….
  • We agree this would be more efficient, but we haven’t built this into the system yet….
  • On the practice and diagnostic tests, it can be tricky to discern whether you are looking at an underlined comma, semicolon, period, or colon…This will not be an issue when you take the SAT itself.
  • (Can I print out all of the practice questions?)  We don’t have plans to do this, though we definitely understand the benefits… [this is something I was really hoping for.  Besides the fact that not all students have reliable and regular online access, the test itself is still pencil-and-paper. Shouldn’t we encourage students to practice that way?]
  • We do not have a dedicated smartphone app for this system…
  • …we still need to create specialized badges that apply well to the SAT practice system

After I read this page, I gave up. It is clear the powers that be don’t care enough to make a program – touted to serve the 1.5+ million students who take the SAT each year – top-notch, or even above average. I actually felt embarrassed for the poor employees who have to answer these questions. I could almost hear them wanted to answer every question with a blanket admission, “You know, you’re right. This whole thing basically stinks.”  

My husband told me not to get mad. “Just think of it as job security.”

2 Responses

  1. Dan Lipford

    The gigantic experiment that is the new SAT continues to fail, to the detriment of both the College Board and — far more importantly — the students who took it and their parents, none of whom were provided with enough candor and information on which to give their informed consent.

    How sleazy of the College Board, and how sad for the students and their parents.

  2. Dan Lipford

    …and, as I’ve predicted, it’s the math portion of the new SAT that’s causing by far the most problems, and that wouldn’t be the case if the College Broad bothered to do the research needed to realize how very little advanced math of the type on the new SAT actually gets used by the average white collar workers who constitute the vast bulk of college graduates.

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