kitchen table math, the sequel: college students studying less

Thursday, July 15, 2010

college students studying less

Interesting story in the Globe:
According to time-use surveys analyzed by professors Philip Babcock, at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks, at the University of California Riverside, the average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student hits the books for just 14 hours.

The decline, Babcock and Marks found, infects students of all demographics. No matter the student’s major, gender, or race, no matter the size of the school or the quality of the

SAT scores of the people enrolled there, the results are the same: Students of all ability levels are studying less.

“It’s not just limited to bad schools,” Babcock said. “We’re seeing it at liberal arts colleges, doctoral research colleges, masters colleges. Every different type, every different size. It’s just across the spectrum. It’s very robust. This is just a huge change in every category.”


[snip]

One problem is that they’re arriving in college with increasingly troubled study habits. According to survey data gathered by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, or CIRP, the largest and longest-running study of higher education in the United States, incoming college freshmen have reported declining study habits for at least two decades. By 2009, nearly two-thirds of them failed to study even six hours a week while seniors in high school — a figure that has risen steadily since 1987.

Once they get to college, the figure improves, but there are many students today who appear to be doing very little whatsoever. In one CIRP survey subset last year, analyzing predominantly private institutions considered to be mid-level or high-achieving colleges, some 32 percent of college freshmen somehow managed to study less than six hours a week — not even an hour a day. Seniors studied only slightly more, with nearly 28 percent studying less than six hours a week. And other surveys of today’s students report similarly alarming results. The National Survey of Student Engagement found in 2009 that 62 percent of college students studied 15 hours a week or less — even as they took home primarily As and Bs on their report cards.

[snip]

[A]ccording to their research, the greatest decline in student studying took place before computers swept through colleges: Between 1961 and 1981, study times fell from 24.4 to 16.8 hours per week (and then, ultimately, to 14). Nor do they believe student employment or changing demographics to be the root cause.... study times are dropping for everyone regardless of employment or personal characteristics.

[snip]

One theory, offered by Babcock and Marks, suggests that the cause, or at least one of them, is a breakdown in the professor-student relationship. Instead of a dynamic where a professor sets standards and students try to meet them, the more common scenario these days, they suggest, is one in which both sides hope to do as little as possible.

“No one really has an incentive to make a demanding class,” Marks said. “To make a tough assignment, you have to write it, grade it. Kids come into office hours and want help on it. If you make it too hard, they complain. Other than the sheer love for knowledge and the desire to pass it on to the next generation, there is no incentive in the system to encourage effort.”

What happened to studying?
By Keith O’Brien
July 4, 2010

I wonder if there's been an upsurge in poster assignments. A friend of mine says he's pretty sure there has been ---

42 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh - I just found this line from Mark Bauerlein:

On that model, though, knowledge isn't absorbed and interpreted. It is retrieved and passed along- -- so speedily that students forget it an hour later. Sad to say, too many college teachers accept the trend. It’s the 21st century, they shrug, and the last thing they want is to appear behind the times.

So they assign more collaborative projects, with more blogs, wikis, and Facebook pages.


Parents are spending $50K/year to send their kids to colleges where professors assign blogs and wikis?

CassyT said...

The first day of ed school, the advisor/professor told students that we should expect to be studying for 30 hours for the 15 credits we were taking that semester. The students revolted! They simply could not believe the courses would take so much time. Most of us also had FT jobs teaching.

FYI- I was required to take a technology course in which the culminating assignment was a powerpoint e-portfolio. This was 7 years ago. No wikis then.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

"College students studying less"? You don't say! This is not news to those of us in the trenches.

Too many college students developed poor study habits while yet in high school (I speak from experience - my undemanding coursework in high school left me ill prepared for college-level scholarship, allowing me to skate by). These poor study habits of course follow them to college, where it takes a few semesters (at least - if they're lucky) to disabuse them of the notion that showing up for class and reviewing notes the night before an exam constitutes sufficient study, resulting in good marks.

ChemProf said...

Yeah, I'm getting ready to teach in a summer bridge program, and we've been talking about exactly these issues. The collaborative projects and extra credit in high school really leave a lot of students poorly prepared for college work. As Niels Henrik Abel says, this is really not news.

I will say, to my little college's credit, I haven't heard of anyone being assigned a poster or blog-based project. There are some class wikis around, but not for credit. I have known students assigned group presentations, but that's usually a way to have presentations in a big (30-50) student class.

Allison said...

Related is a lack of core curriculum requirements.

http://www.whatwilltheylearn.com/
rankings are helpful.

momof4 said...

When the dinosaur roamed and I was in (1-12)school, teachers explicitly taught how to outline, both from a written source and from a lecture. We were also taught how to summarize and expected to memorize all kinds of things in all subjects. Those are very useful study skills that don't seem to be taught now. In my nephew's high school, teachers hand out notes routinely and "review" for the test the day before; not much need for study skills there.

Bostonian said...

College is to some extent an IQ filter. Employers cannot screen applicants based on IQ tests, because that triggers "disparate impact" lawsuits due to differences in average score by race. Employers can and do use the B.A. degree as a way to select for a certain level of intelligence and diligence, and those looking for high intelligence recruit heavily at the Ivies and a few of the better flagship state universities.

Given that the B.A. has become such a valuable credential, regardless of how much is actually learned, it should not be surprising that students try to obtain the credential with as little work as possible.

Civil rights laws should be changed so that employers can screen applicants based on standardized tests. If that happens, much of the artificial demand for college degrees will dry up.

Charles Murray has discussed these ideas in the book "Real Education".

Bostonian said...

I see that Harvard, realizing that its students are recruited for the brains and drive they bring to the school, and not what they actually learn there, has taken my argument to its logical conclusion -- making final exams optional.

thefish30@gmail.com said...

One thing I wonder:

Is 'studying' defined as all time spent on classwork outside of class, including homework, papers, etc.? Or does it mean only activities the student voluntarily undertakes on order to master material, such as going over notes, memorizing, re-reading and extra note-taking before a test?

ChemProf said...

Studying was defined as all time outside of class spent on classwork, as you say, not just preparing for exams (which may be rare in some humanities courses, actually).

I sometimes think one of my most valuable school experiences was in 4th grade, when we had biweekly poetry parties, where if you had memorized and could recite a poem, you got to have cake. It was optional (there was a boring worksheet, and many chose to do that instead), but I think the memorization and public speaking it taught did me a lot of good.

I also mourn the loss of outlining. My students vaguely know how to do it, but don't. For senior seminar, where they write a 20 page paper, we've found we have to explicitly require that they submit an outline, or they try to just sit down and start writing (and inevitably produce a disorganized mess).

Crimson Wife said...

FWIW, I found that the term papers for my non-STEM college courses typically required significantly more time & effort than the final exams. The STEM courses presumably will keep giving finals even if Harvard doesn't formally require them to.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Not all STEM classes have final exams. Most of the graduate and senior-level courses I've taught are based on programming assignments and term projects. Exams are really only good for testing memory work and short-exercise skills, not for the sustained thinking and skills that the courses I teach are supposed to develop.

Allison said...

The idea that exams can't test sustained thinking is not supported by evidence.

SICP, The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programming, as taught at MIT, Cal, and dozens if not a hundred other schools has exams and finals. The idea that such a exam wasn't assessing sustained thinking is laughable. Complexity theory is nearly always taught with a final at the undergrad level, as there are no programming assignments or term projects appropriate. Other theory courses such as algorithms usually have finals as well.

Physics classes have exams, of course. The idea that such exams only test "short exercise skills"
is bizarre, frankly. Ask a physics undergrad at CalTech how many hours they spend working on a take home final--the answer will be 12 or more, often. A typical 3 hour final in physics at MIT involved 3 problems. Solving the hydrogen atom doesn't count as a short exercise.

Bostonian said...

Harvard Magazine discusses the changes in exam policy here , and part of it is quoted below, with some bolding by me. Even some Harvard faculty admit that the trend away from final exams is for their own convenience.

"It appears that finals are going the way of the dodo. Harris told the faculty that of 1,137 undergraduate-level courses this spring term, 259 scheduled finals—the lowest number since 2002, when 200 fewer courses were offered. For the more than 500 graduate-level courses offered, just 14 had finals, he reported. Until the 1940s, Harris noted during subsequent discussion, requests to conclude a course without a final examination required a formal vote by the entire FAS.

James Engell, Gurney professor of English literature and professor of comparative literature, rose to suggest that the trend toward fewer exams was not a trivial matter. Last fall, the English department (he is chair) had just five courses that ended with exams. Whatever the merits of requiring just a long final paper, he said, it meant that perhaps nothing beyond the paper itself was being used to evaluate what students were learning. Given that many departments—English, history, classics, for example—have also given up senior-year general examinations, it is increasingly unclear how to answer the question, “How are we assessing students?” And given grade compression, he added, it became difficult to distinguish exceptional from ordinary work in the humanities. He approved of the motion for its bureaucratic rationale, Engell said, but he challenged directors of undergraduate studies and departments to examine the consequences of the trend “to examine less and less and less and less.”

Saltonstall professor of history Charles S. Maier said that in a classroom of 20 students, he and most professors could evaluate students’ performance, but that the differences had become blurred in contemporary grading. As for the diminishing use of exams, he noted that in the new, leaned-down FAS, professors had to proctor them personally—a further disincentive to requiring finals. When he asked whether there were divisional distinctions in the use of exams, Harris said he believed that the sciences and quantitative social sciences were most likely to end courses with finals, the interpretive social sciences and humanities least likely.

Franke professor of German art and culture Jeffrey F. Hamburger said he had observed that courses without exams tended to suffer diminished attendance late in a semester—and that without meaning to be cynical, there was also a correlation between doing away with exams and professors’ absence from campus in the month of May. Commenting more broadly on the “climate of expectations,” Wertham professor of law and psychiatry in society Diana L. Eck (who is also master of Lowell House) said that she had always ended courses with a final exam and a significant paper, and that students increasingly seemed “affronted” by this requirement. And professor of Greek and Latin Richard F. Thomas noted that in the classics, which abolished general examinations only last year (see “Humanities Rebooted,” May-June 2009, page 52), the department had agreed that students would have to take a couple of specified courses that required finals. It should perhaps be a departmental matter, not solely at individual professors’ discretion, he said, to determine the degree to which concentrators should have examinations."

...

Cranberry said...

That is a farcical state of affairs. Heaven forbid that students and professors at Harvard should be inconvenienced by scholarship.

It's fascinating that the twin evils of grade compression and grade inflation have reached even Harvard.

Allison said...

Cranberry, you have it backwards.

It was the Ivy League that propagated these ideas in the first place. They were the ones that undermined the academy, and they were already doing so in the 1950s. (Read Buckley's God and Man at Yale for details.) By the 60s, they believe the claptrap enough that in 68, they were willing to forego scholarship standards and create the "studies" departments of black studies and women's studies, etc. They weren't appeasing the New Left as much as they had already embraced it. They embraced affirmative action in their admissions policy, and then they elevated these ideas to where every other academic institution had to sign on because the elite had decided this was good for them.

Grade inflation is the natural consequence of the upside-down values laid out in the 50s, when their liberal arts professors refused to prefer one truth, and rather embraced relativism at every level of the intellectual argument. How can you have strict grades, defined by the students learning what's true, if you don't believe anything is preferred as truth? How can you flunk a student for not valuing attendance or assignments when you've already thrown out the notion that there is a standard for decorum and behavior? How can you make any demands of your students when you spent your whole career asserting that Self matters more than anything else, that personal experience trumps societal norms?

Allison said...

Even those who appear to be holding the line don't seem to put their foot down.

"Diana L. Eck (who is also master of Lowell House) said that she had always ended courses with a final exam and a significant paper, and that students increasingly seemed “affronted” by this requirement."

But why does any professor or dean give a hoot that a student is affronted? So what? Why does it matter how they feel?

Because the therapeutic mindset has taken over the academy.

A culture that thinks the feelings of still-adolescents should be the main criteria for defining good and bad/what should be done has no ability to train or discipline (in the large sense) its culture.

K9Sasha said...

In my nephew's high school, teachers hand out notes routinely and "review" for the test the day before; not much need for study skills there.

In my classroom last year, if I did not repeat, repeat, repeat material while teaching, then review the same material before giving a test, many of my students would fail. Especially in a private school, there was a need to make sure students didn't fail.

I don't know what's going on, why it was so hard to get the students to learn material. I know I'm not an outstanding teacher, but I'm not a dismal one either, and yet it took a solid month of discussing the bones of the body before the majority of my students (not all of them, and I only had 13) could pass a simple test to label the major bones in the body.

Teaching and learning should be a shared activity, with both parties putting forth good effort. The idea that if students aren't learning, teachers aren't teaching puts all the onus on the teachers, and gives students the 'right' to complain if there's too much work or they don't like their grades.

Anonymous said...

Dang. My high school teacher simply handed us a diagram of the bones of the body and said, "learn the names of these bones, and study the textbook to learn what part of the body and it motions they support." End of story.

K9Sasha said...

This was in a mixed grade classroom of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. No matter what I assigned I saw no evidence that students learned anything outside of class time. They didn't even learn much during class time. One day the administrator was in the room while I was teaching Spanish. It was a review lesson with a quiz at the end. The administrator, who had never taken Spanish, aced the quiz. She was the only one who did.

I was appalled at the lack of interest parents had in their kids' education, and these were parents who were paying for that education. I even had one parent who picked up two kids (her son and a friend) early once a week so they wouldn't be late to football practice. Something is wrong when you're more worried about missing football practice than school time.

Anonymous said...

"...yet it took a solid month of discussing the bones of the body before the majority of my students (not all of them, and I only had 13) could pass a simple test to label the major bones in the body."

I'll be a little bit contrary and ask why this was done in one month. There are 206 bones in the human body ... which is roughly the same number of countries on Earth.

I home-school, and my son is learning the countries. I am sure that we could make it a high priority and that he could learn all of them in 30 days ... at least well enough to pass a test (say 90% correct). But I don't really see much of a point. If we did this, and then moved on to something else, he would have forgotten most of what he knew for the test within a year. Instead, what we are doing is learning a few countries every so often, with a review/test every week or so. I track what he knows and the number of countries he can identify grows at a fairly steady, if irregular, rate. We started a few years ago, and I'm sure that in another year or two we will be "done" (Africa is going to be the last and toughest). "done" won't mean that we stop ... we'll still do the review every week or so (or every month or so). And he's also learning mountains, rivers, cities, concepts (e.g. delta, mesa) so the total item count will likely be well over 1,000.

But ... one key difference I think I see is that most of what he learns he will retain, hopefully for a long time. We are definitely pursuing a slow/steady/spaced-repetition strategy. I'm wondering if the kids learning the bones know that this knowledge is only for the test, so they don't see much point in cramming and then forgetting.

-Mark Roulo

momof4 said...

I understand your message about leaving early for extracurriculars, but I'd like to approach the issue from another direction. I have never done that on a weekly basis, but I did collect my (MS) kids early on occasional Fridays so we could get to an away tournament in a reasonable time. The trip that took 5 hours if we left at 1:00 took at 8-9 hours if we left at 3:00. However, the likelihood of their missing anything significant was minimal; both because the (highly-ranked) school wasted an enormous amount of time on a regular basis (especially Friday afternooms) and because it was likely that at least a quarter of the kids were leaving early on those weekends. Of course, the kids did have their assignments and Mom rode a broom to make sure they were done to my standards. We also always used in-car time to do stuff they didn't do in school; geographical features, state and national capitals, history, music appreciation, science (major bones!) etc. They also read in the car and did homework.

It was interesting that all of them, singly and together, discussed what kind of school they would create if they had the opportunity. In all cases, they chose much stronger academics (more and deeper material and acceleration), including foreign languages for all years, strict deportment and dress code (ties and jackets), lunches with a teacher at each table and age-appropriate table manners and conversation (news etc), art and music appreciation etc.

K9Sasha said...

I'll be a little bit contrary and ask why this was done in one month.

We were only learning the major bones, not all 206 of them. And for many of them it was supposed to be a review - they had studied the bones the year before. The health book we were using had a two page spread about bones. It took me a month to cover those two pages. I used videos, physical activities, work pages, games, you name it.


I understand your message about leaving early for extracurriculars, but I'd like to approach the issue from another direction. I have never done that on a weekly basis, but I did collect my (MS) kids early on occasional Fridays so we could get to an away tournament in a reasonable time.

Leaving early for a tournament is one thing, and totally understandable, but that wasn't what was happening. They were leaving early for practice each week.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Responding to Alison's comment
"
SICP, The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programming, as taught at MIT, Cal, and dozens if not a hundred other schools has exams and finals. The idea that such a exam wasn't assessing sustained thinking is laughable. Complexity theory is nearly always taught with a final at the undergrad level, as there are no programming assignments or term projects appropriate. Other theory courses such as algorithms usually have finals as well."

SCIP is not a high-level course. It is an introductory programming class for freshmen. Even in that class, I doubt that anyone teaching it regards the exams as more important than the programming assignments.

The teachers of the class at MIT say
"There are two exams during the semester, and a final exam, but the crucial learning done by students is through substantial weekly programming assignments."
http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/course.html

The exams in that course are primarily to make sure that simple concepts are understood and that the programs turned in are not just copied. The exams cannot really assess program design and debugging skills. At best they test syntax knowledge, small puzzle solving, and coding of snippets.

It is possible in some courses to write decent exams that assess student knowledge (applied math courses and CS theory classes tend to be good for this). In other courses, such as engineering design classes and programming classes, only actual projects that involve substantial time assess the skills being taught.

Similarly many humanities classes are better assessed by a few term papers, rather than a final exam. In fact, using final exams instead of term papers and major projects is cheaper and poorer option.

Allison said...

SICP is a very high level course. It isn't an upper division course, true. But it isn't a programming course in any traditional sense of the word.

I know because I taught it. Not as a TA, but as the lecturer to 200 students. Even the quote you give demonstrates your mistake in conflating how students learn with how students should be assessed. Yes, give homework assignments, including substantial programming assignments, to help students learn. But then assess if they learned by exams. So, I, as the teacher, didn't regard the exams as more important to their learning, but absolutely, it was more important to proper assessment of what they learned.The exams are not primarily designed to make sure that simple concepts are understood. They are designed to see that very difficult concepts are understood without the trial and error that programming live gives you.

You may think that recursion, operator theory, state, and metacircular evaluation are simple, but they aren't. And a truly good test of whether you understood a concept is if you can write down high level code correctly without an interpreter to tell you what you did wrong.

ChemProf said...

There is a more prosaic reason I worry about the loss of final exams. With an exam, I know it is the student's work. In this era of cooperative learning, students rely on writing centers, TAs, and peers to help them write essays. Even ignoring the possibilities of plagiarism, I never really know how much of a term paper belongs to the student and not the student's support group.

I'm not saying that term papers aren't valuable, but if that's the only assessment you ever do, then you may not really be assessing the individual student.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"With an exam, I know it is the student's work."

I agree that a major reason for including exams in a course is checking for cheating on other assignments. I'm fortunate enough to have small classes at senior and graduate levels, so that I can read their papers and programs myself. I don't have to rely on a TA to detect academic integrity problems.

I have failed students for plagiarism (copying chunks of text from the web), but it does not come up often, as I make it quite clear to students what I consider plagiarism and how serious an academic sin it is. I suspect it would be a bigger problem in a freshman course.

I think Allison and I will have to agree to disagree about the value of exams for assessing programming skills. The tiny snippets of code that you can include in a timed test are not very predictive of student ability to write larger programs and keep them working in the face of changing requirements (the real-world skill we are trying to develop). The exams are useful for testing some important ideas (like the notions of recursion and state), so I'm not proposing that exams be eliminated from assessment, just that they not be the sole (or even primary) assessment.

Anonymous said...

"We were only learning the major bones, not all 206 of them. And for many of them it was supposed to be a review - they had studied the bones the year before. The health book we were using had a two page spread about bones. It took me a month to cover those two pages. I used videos, physical activities, work pages, games, you name it."

Oh, dear! Two pages in one month!

I am so sorry for you and so glad that I am not you. This strongly suggests students who JUST DON'T CARE. I have no idea what to do with them, other than set them free to go get work ...

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

I'm a high school English teacher. We teachers at this level could tell you that what you are seeing is what we deal with daily in our classrooms. They will not study. If they happen to learn something in class, that is it. Yet they expect to get an A. Witness the trend toward giving a 50 even if the student turns nothing in, doesn't take the test or exam, and the passing grade for all courses in the school is determined by the school board as 60%. They get passed on, they are not proficient, they do not know what they need to know. No wonder colleges and universities are having problems!
Look at the generation that raised these kids. Look at their habits. Look at the kids' habits.( Up late with computers and texting and then too tired to show up to school and mommmy doesn't make them go to sleep nor get up.)
Folks, we are losing this generation and it is not the fault of the education system; it is the parents and kids.

Anonymous said...

"No wonder colleges and universities are having problems!"

I will not let the colleges and universities (except for the junior/community colleges) off the hook. The colleges and universities *KNOW* what to expect from their incoming students. The SAT/ACT scores are available. If a college or university accepts students that it knows are unprepared to perform college level work, I have little sympathy. I have a little sympathy for the teachers/professors, but only a little ... if the college refused to accept the poorly prepared students many of these teachers/professors would need to go get new jobs and I don't see any real move from the faculty to raise standards if unemployment among the faculty is the result.

-Mark Roulo

ChemProf said...

I don't think we should be letting anyone off the hook -- not colleges or K-12. This kind of lowering of standards, both for accepting students and for their work once in college, is just plain toxic. Interestingly, I actually think it is more of a problem at "name" schools, because no one (so far) is going to stop hiring Harvard grads because they don't take finals. Harvard can also survive with a median grade of A-. If my tiny college starts graduating "A" students who aren't competitive, and if we get a reputation in the area that our students aren't capable, then we are sunk.

There's some evidence that we are on the edge of a higher education bubble, with college being over sold and too many students leaving college with loans and no degree. If the bubble bursts, universities have only themselves to blame.

I'd also caution K-12 teachers from blaming students and parents exclusively. At some point, taxpayers are going to start asking why we should pay so much for education when you admit you can't do anything with these students, and parents are going to start asking why they should send their kids to sit next to these other students who aren't interested in doing the work.

Allison said...

--I think Allison and I will have to agree to disagree about the value of exams for assessing programming skills.

When did I say anything about the value of exams for assessing programming skills? When did I say SICP was a course about programming *skills*? You keep fighting me with straw men. I didn't say what you think I said. Maybe I wrote poorly, but I argued with your comment about how exams can't measure sustained thinking, and your comment about what exams can test is "short exercise skills".

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Alison,

OK, I'll accept that mis-interpreted your comment. I still claim that an exam that last less than three hours cannot test "sustained thinking", by definition. It can only test thinking that lasts 3 hours.

Allison said...

I think the point about Harvard grads getting hired is right.

Fundamentally, if you've already decided everyone's going to get a B+ except for those who do something egregious or those who do something excellent, what do you need a final exam to assess their performance for?

Schools today look at how Gates doesn't give Harvard money and think "it's not worth pissing off someone who could leave us billions". They don't need to flunk someone out.

Employers aren't using the GPA from a Harvard grad as a measure for anything, so it doesn't matter. Now, if you're from a different school, you have to establish what your student is worth somehow. So grade inflation there only matters to the extent that that school's local market cares about what the gpa means.

Now, kids leaving Harvard for grad school will get real recs written, and the real recs will still mean something no matter what the gpa is, but only because everyone agrees still that students have no right to see that recommendation. The day that changes, the rec will be meaningless too.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Mark Roulo said "The colleges and universities *KNOW* what to expect from their incoming students. The SAT/ACT scores are available."

Although SAT and ACT scores are useful predictors of student performance, they don't tell us much about student work ethic, which is the point the high school English teacher was discussing.

For that matter, they don't tell us much about education past 9th grade. (I know a kid who just finished 6th grade and never heard of a 5-paragraph essay who scored over 700 on math and reading, and over 500 on the writing.)

Anonymous said...

"Although SAT and ACT scores are useful predictors of student performance, they don't tell us much about student work ethic, which is the point the high school English teacher was discussing.

For that matter, they don't tell us much about education past 9th grade. (I know a kid who just finished 6th grade and never heard of a 5-paragraph essay who scored over 700 on math and reading, and over 500 on the writing.)"


There will always be individual variation. But ... the Cal State University system has about 50% of the incoming students taking remedial math or English or both. With about 30 campuses, there is a spread and some campuses are much higher than that. I simply don't believe that this university system has any illusions about the quality of the incoming class, especially when taken at a per-campus basis.

The SAT *subject* tests are supposed to tell us about education past 9th grade. Maybe they don't, but I bet they do. Many colleges require an application essay as well (which, of course, can be written by someone else, although the new SAT writing portion of the test should provide a good check for this).

Yes, the tests won't tell you who is unmotivated. I went to college with one very bright fellow who was heading towards flunking out because he wouldn't study (back in the days before World of Warcraft, too ...). My question, though, would be: How many kids are bright enough to score, say, 1250+ on the Math+Verbal part of the SAT and also won't do homework? My guess is that in general the kids scoring up there are actually willing to do the work.

When a college starts accepting kids with SAT scores below 1,000 (old scale, this would be below 900) though, I don't think anyone should be surprised or upset at what the kids can and will do.

-Mark Roulo

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Mark, you're right that SAT subject tests do measure high-school content. The SAT Math subject test goes all the way up to algebra 2. Unfortunately, many universities (including University of California) are moving away from requiring subject tests.

I'm not convinced that high-SAT kids are "in general … willing to do the work." In fact, gifted kids are often so underchallenged in elementary and high school that they have no idea how to work.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Allison said "the real recs will still mean something no matter what the gpa is, but only because everyone agrees still that students have no right to see that recommendation. The day that changes, the rec will be meaningless too."

For decades now, students have had the ability to look at their recommendation letters in public universities. Few choose to do so.
It has not affected the letters much.

ChemProf said...

For grad school, the forms I see give students the option of signing away their rights to see the letters. I always recommend that students do just that, as otherwise the letters aren't taken seriously. I don't know that it is as much of an issue going from high school to college, though.

Allison said...

--For decades now, students have had the ability to look at their recommendation letters in public universities. Few choose to do so.
It has not affected the letters much.


Didn't you just support my point? Students are expected to waive their rights to read the letter. The only letters taken seriously are the ones where the rights are waived. Nearly all waive their rights, because for now, they know that they essentially have to in order to get in to grad school.

-- I still claim that an exam that last less than three hours cannot test "sustained thinking", by definition. It can only test thinking that lasts 3 hours.

Well, that's silly. But first, I gave several examples of final exams that were a dozen hours long, not just 3, in STEM courses, so my argument was about your claim that exams can't measure sustained thinking.

But to the big claim: of course you can measure whether sustained thinking occurred in the past with a short exam. What do you think quals are? They are demonstration that you've done significant sustained thinking in the past, far more than hours' worth. The idea that there's a lot of value in measuring if *right now* your'e capable of sustained thinking is a different question that I don't find interesting.

It's quite easy to design an exam that measures whether you did sustained thinking in the past: you ask questions that require mastery by the student of transformational concepts. Understanding, say, linear independence, or the span of a vector set, or proof by induction all required sustained thinking on the order of much much more than merely hours, and yet can be tested rapidly.

Allison said...

-My question, though, would be: How many kids are bright enough to score, say, 1250+ on the Math+Verbal part of the SAT and also won't do homework? My guess is that in general the kids scoring up there are actually willing to do the work.

Well, the issue here is culture.

Culture in college is nearly everything. There are many subcultures in college where students actively discourage each other from studying. Drinking, drugging, and whoring takes precedence for many students Thursday through Sunday. Having undergrads live with only other undergrads is a recipe for this kind of crazy subculture that takes over a student's life. It's like an infection, really, and it spreads like one.

This especially occurs in the pressure cooker schools that took the 1250 students. It occurs there because these students have no idea how to study, having spent 13 years not doing so. It also occurs because of strange one-up-manship in such schools, where students try to see who is the coolest/best for pulling off the brinksmanship of not studying, or not doing their homework until the last minute. Couple that with a sense that it's unreasonable that work previously considered A work is now B- work, as well as the idea that they think they've seen this all before,and you've got an entitlement culture that rebels against taking seriously hard work.

Allison said...

re: recs: Sorry, I see where I was unclear. I meant

students don't see their recs now because the vast vast majority waive their rights. This is what allows the recs to have meaning. For better or worse (and I've discussed what's wrong with this elsewhere), professors feel they can't give honest recs without this confidentiality, and so the only recs with merit are those which are confidential. These contain the details of a student's performance for the relevant future department.

Profs' reputations are staked on these, and they aren't going to grade inflate them while they are still private. As soon as that stops being the norm, and students headed to grad school insist en masse on not signing that waiver, then the rec will cease to have any content in it, just as GPAs from those schools don't now.