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Required Reading for College-Application Season

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If your life includes a college-bound high school senior, you don't need to be told that we're in the thick of college-application season, with all its attendant worries. (Do I sound like someone who recently tended to a teen applying to college? Okay. I gave myself away.) Here are a couple of good reading tidbits for you.

The first is a new report from ACT Inc., the folks who make one of the two big college-admissions tests. The Condition of College Readiness 2009 is a cool snapshot of the graduating seniors in 2009 who took the ACT: what chunk of those students met the ACT's college- readiness benchmarks and what their career and education aspirations were. It also examines trends in test-taking and scores over the past five years. We covered this year's test results in a separate story when they came out in August (story here, blog post here). But this report is a neat overview.

The other bit of reading worth checking out is a series of question-and-answer posts from College Board President Gaston Caperton on The New York Times' college-guidance blog, "The Choice," this week. (You remember the College Board. They put out the other big college-admissions test, the SAT.) Here, he says that the SAT tests what students learn in the classroom, so no prep class can produce a big boost in scores, or replace years of solid classroom learning.

One questioner asked Caperton what the College Board will do to level the playing field for lower-income kids, who lack the access to expensive prep courses that their wealthier counterparts have. He doesn't say a whole lot, except to refer to the organization's "free and low-cost tools and practice" to familiarize students with the test. Check out Part 1 (what the College Board is doing about boosting minority access to higher education) and Part 2 (how students can now choose the SAT test dates from which to submit scores to colleges) of Caperton's answers to questions, too.

(In case you missed it, an interesting report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling last May raised some questions about the role of test prep in college admissions.)

2 Comments

Since High School GPA is the best predictor of college success, the message should be clear from the results of the ACT as with the SAT: Remediate both tests and align them with high school curriculums, regarding content, questions and testing procedure. Otherwise, these tests will continue to "fail" to adequately describe student performance in the schools.

I have to disagree with the statement:

"Here, he says that the SAT tests what students learn in the classroom, so no prep class can produce a big boost in scores, or replace years of solid classroom learning."

How many students learn to do sentence completion or antonym questions in high school English? Likewise how often do quantitative comparison questions appear in students' high school math courses? While it is important that students learn Algebra and Geometry well in their schools to do well on the exam, a lot of what the SAT requires is test taking strategies that are not taught in schools. Prep courses focus on these, as do prep books such as the one that is published by the College Board themselves.

The SAT can be taught, students can learn to do better with a little extra prep.

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