If you attempted attempted to visit this website during the past week-and-half (2/5 through 2/14/24), you are undoubtedly aware that it was inaccessible. Although I’ve posted a note on Facebook regarding the situation and have been sending periodic updates to mailing-list subscribers, I am aware that the information has not reached everyone. So to explain: what occurred was the result of an unforeseeably complex and unusual situation, but the good news is that the problem has now been resolved and there should be no further issues. The short version is that thecriticalreader.com domain expired at the end of January, and I when I went to renew it, I discovered that I had been locked out of my account. Extended attempts to reset my login credentials were unsuccessful, and ultimately I needed to confirm my identity to regain access, a process that took several days. It then took another full week for the domain to be transferred back to me, during which time the site could not be activated. The domain has now been renewed for nine years (the longest period possible), with additional protection, and it should now remain continuously active.
Regarding the Question of the Day: Explanations could not be posted during the days the site was down (they were sent out to subscribers, along with the questions), but they have now been added to the relevant page.
We appreciate your patience and understanding during what has been a very stressful couple of weeks.
A couple of months ago, before I got sucked back into the black hole of my SAT vocabulary book, I wrote a post about the importance of time constraints in standardized testing. In it, I briefly discussed some reasons for why current students find timed assignments/assessments so overwhelming; and in particular, I voiced my concern that the loosening of academic standards during the pandemic resulted in pupils’ becoming (further) accustomed to endlessly flexible deadlines and high grades for “fuzzy” assignments such as posters, Power Points, and projects designed to disguise gaps in basic subject knowledge.
There are additional factors that play a role in declining expectations and concurrent SAT score inflation, however—and the situation long predates the pandemic. I originally started to discuss it in my previous post, but the issues seemed too complex and distracting to really get into, so it made more sense to explore them in a separate piece.
Let m start here. In terms of the timing changes on the digital SAT, the increase in the amount of time allotted to each Math question is really striking: from 25 minutes for 20 questions on the paper-based exam to 35 minutes for 22 questions. (Although slightly more time is given per Writing questions than on the paper-based test, Writing is now rolled in with Reading, which is generally more time consuming.) The more I thought about it, the more the disparity seemed odd—why give so much more time for Math questions than for Reading and Writing? (more…)
Among the alterations made to the digital version of the SAT are changes to the amount of time per question. The current, paper-based version allows for just over a minute per question in Reading (65 mins./52 questions) and Math (25 mins./20 questions) vs. a bit under a minute for Writing (35 mins./44 questions).
However, the digital exam greatly increases the amount of time for both Math (35 mins./22 questions) and Writing (now integrated into Reading/Writing modules, with 32 mins./27 questions), whereas the amount of time per reading question actually decreases very slightly.
From an equity standpoint, the proportion of students with questionable diagnoses now receiving extra time has become so high that the move is perhaps designed to tacitly level the playing field somewhat. At the same time, by offering more generous timing, the College Board is obviously seeking to salvage what it can of the shrinking testing market and lure more students away from the ACT, whose timing has not changed in decades, and whose average scores are now being at a 30-year low. (Note that the College Board’s periodic “recentering” of the SAT scoring scale has prevented the organization from having to release a comparable report). The more forgiving Math timing is also presumably designed to help more students meet the benchmark—50 points higher than the Reading/Writing one—and thus to bolster graduation rates in states where the SAT is used as a high-school exit test. But if the move relieves some of the pressure on students, it may also make test results less meaningful. (more…)
In all my years of tutoring and writing about grammar, this particular point of confusion has never come up… that is, until a couple of days ago, when I clicked through a YouTube SAT-grammar video sent by a colleague and realized, after a brief period of confusion, that the tutor confidently expounding on conjunctions was actually talking about contractions. I was not exactly shocked—I mean, it is YouTube—but still, it was pretty painful to watch.
Operating under the assumption that if one person is confused about a given point—particularly someone trying to explain it to literally thousands of people—then many other people are probably confused as well, I plugged “conjunctions vs. contractions” into Google to see what the depths of the Internet would reveal. Although the phrase popped up immediately as a search term, I was, to my considerable surprise, unable to find a single explanation that both addressed the issue directly and was written in coherent, grammatical English. I felt obligated to remedy the situation, hence this post. (more…)
In my previous post, I discussed the recently published paper by superstar Harvard economist Raj Chetty, along with colleagues from Brown, confirming what I suspect most people involved in selective college admissions could intuitively report—namely, that the top 1%, and really the top .1%, enjoy a massive advantage in the college admissions process, largely as a result of a non-academic factors.
I’ve read the full paper, and although the statistical formulas used to calculate the effects are well over my head, the conclusions Chetty et al. draw are quite clear. (A detailed summary is also available.) Some of the main takeaways are as follows. (more…)
Now that the Supreme Court has issued its expected ruling dismantling Affirmative Action, it is reasonable to assume that widescale test-optional admissions are here to stay. While applicants are still free to discuss their ethnic backgrounds in their essays, and colleges may consider that information as part of the holistic review process, the ruling issues a clear warning to schools not to attempt to use such information in an attempt to circumvent either the letter or the spirit of the ruling.
Although the new landscape is murky, and colleges are understandably hesitant to undertake an action that might result in additional court cases, it is also clear that they will take any legally permissible steps necessary to enroll URM applicants. As Bates professor Tyler Harper pointed out in a New York Times piece responding to the ruling, this is likely to result in an admissions process that is even more subjective, opaque, and open to “racial gaming” than it is at present—in the absence of test scores, accusations of unfairly (dis)advantaging certain categories of applicants become much that more difficult to prove in court, and, there will undoubtedly continue to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth about How the Woke Mob Is Destroying the Great American University.
However, there is rhetoric and virtue-signaling, and then there is a more complex reality. In fact, the test-optional movement cuts both ways. On a small scale, it will undoubtedly result in the admission of some underrepresented minority students who would not have gained acceptance to particular institutions otherwise. On a very broad scale, in contrast, those effects are likely to be more muted. From universities’ standpoint, there are benefits to dropping standardized testing requirements that are entirely unrelated to promoting equity, and that are likely to benefit the most advantaged applicants.