kitchen table math, the sequel: December SAT Scores (aka, My Buddha)

Friday, December 23, 2011

December SAT Scores (aka, My Buddha)

I'd characterize yesterday as an epically bad day in my 46 years of life, and while the turmoil had nothing to do with the SAT, my December scores did not help.
Yes, I do realize (intellectually) that I should feel happy about my Reading and Writing scores; but honestly, that Math score feels crushing, like a bully.  Today, well, I'm trying to see it as my Buddha.
The worst part was telling my son. I swear to you, he looked at me with these big, wide, honest to god eyes of surprise, and said "really?" --  like he truly couldn't believe his mom didn't do it.  I think I'd actually convinced him that hard work pays off (that's what I thought!).
But he's a sweetie, and he quickly focused on my Reading and Writing scores, telling me how great they are, blah blah blah. In fact I got all sorts of encouraging emails from friends and family:
"I know it's hard to remember at times like these, but these scores are not a judgment. They're just numbers ..... You did your best and gave it your best shot.  That's what's most important -- the process, not the outcome .... Your scores are fantastic – you’re 40 points away from an 800 on CR – do you know how many parents would kill for that score?? The 730 on writing just puts you in your range."
They made me feel better, in a supported sort of way -- but deep inside I couldn't help feeling like a high school senior who just found out they didn't get into their first choice college, and everyone writes on their Facebook wall: "You're too good for them.... It wasn't meant to be..... There's a better school for you..."
And that's all true, but it still feels devastating.  At least it does for me.
At the end of the day yesterday, I received an email that truly did lift my spirits. It came from a high school senior whom I'd never met:
SAT scores came out today! How did you do? I hope you did well. I know you'll get a good score, and congrats on completing the project! What you did was very inspiring, especially for high school seniors. I just thought that I would let you know that you motivated me to study, and I went from a 1630 (520R 600M 510W) (junior year) to a 2300 (700R 800M 800W) (senior year).
I need to print that out and post it at eye level on my bulletin board.
I haven't fully processed how it's possible that I spent dozens and dozens of joyful hours studying SAT math over the course of 10 months, and hardly improved at all from where I started without knowing a thing last January.  My friend Catherine says it's one more piece of evidence that a solid curriculum is essential, and without that, no amount of SAT prep in the world is going to improve your score.
For all intents and purposes, I didn't learn a lick of math after 9th grade (until I began this project).  I'm thinking about taking a math class at my local community college -- and just starting from scratch.
I'm not done.  I have to pause in order to write a book right now, but I'm not done with the math.  I feel incomplete.
If there's anyone else out there feeling disappointed by their SAT scores, here's a quote that I have posted in a few places around my house that seems to help:
If you have the privilege of being with someone at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple:
  • "Did I love well?"  
  • "Did I live fully?"
  • "Did I learn to let go?"                                                      
                                 -- Jack Kornfield

llustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis
Cross-posted on Perfect Score Project


Bostonian said...

The SAT used to stand for "Scholastic Aptitude Test", and you appear to have unusual verbal aptitude but only average math aptitude. The SAT is largely an intelligence test, and beyond a certain point studying for it will not improve one's score.

Catherine Johnson said...

nix on that

You, Bostonian, have no ability to judge Debbie's 'math aptitude,' as you call it, based in a set of SAT scores and essentially no education in math beyond freshman year in high school (if that).

The SAT is not a test of crystallized intelligence.

It is a test of knowledge.

Funky knowledge, but knowledge nonetheless.

For the record, I improved my own math score by 110 points.

I improved Chris's math score by 60 to 70 points.

Debbie's experience is a brilliant illustration of the limits of 'teaching to the test': Debbie had a year of SAT prep, not a year of math.

Debbie Stier said...

@Bostonian -- If it were an intelligence test, I would have done better! I actually questioned my intelligence at one point during this process took an IQ test.

I think Catherine's assessment is absolutely right.

Here is the really weird aspect of the the math story for me:

I actually still believe I'm good at math and am mathematically inclined. I know that NO ONE will believe me, but I'm not kidding -- math comes pretty easily to me -- EXCEPT on the SAT.

This math story reminds me of when I was growing up, and my mother had instilled this belief in the whole family that if you weighed more than 110 pounds as a woman, you were overweight. Period. Didn't matter how tall you were, or how big your bones were -- over 110 lbs was a problem. (She is very small boned and thin -- and I'm built more like my father's side of the family -- i.e. hearty.)

So when I started getting near that 110 mark in high school, she started getting very nervous that I was going to be fat, and she would bribe me with new clothes if I lost weight (and I was very thin in hs).

I always say, it's a miracle I didn't get anorexia.

Somehow, I ALWAYS knew that she was dead wrong about this 110 I let her just have it, and I sort of played into it, but I knew deep inside myself that I wasn't fat.

That's sort of how I feel about this SAT math score.

I KNOW I'm good at math! And, I know that I learned a ton of math on this journey, and even though it didn't show up in my score, I'm not convinced that it says I'm not good at math, nor does it reflect my aptitude.

It probably reflects my lack of a good math education.

Maybe I'm out of my mind, but every bone in my body tells me I'm right....and that I didn't go about this the right way, but then, I probably couldn't have done it the "right way" in the year I set out to do it. That was a bad calculation.

Jen said...

There's a big difference between good in math and good at the math section of the SAT.

The latter adds in all sorts of things that the first doesn't require at all. Which says something bad about the test, not about the person's math skills.

Glen said...

Debbie, I think your answer is in your posting. You say you "didn't learn a lick of math since 9th grade (until this project)", then you put in "dozens and dozens of joyful hours" over the past year on SAT math. And you got a 55%ile.

Contrast that to your reading. How much reading would you say you've done since 9th grade? My guess is that you've done dozens and dozens of hours of reading nearly every MONTH since 9th grade (and probably many years before that.) And you scored a 99%ile. Hmm.

Now consider your writing. You got a 97%ile. I'm going to go way out on a limb and guess that, since 9th grade, you've done a whale of a lot more writing than math, but not as much writing as reading. How did I do?

I spent dozens and dozens of hours on math each MONTH, every month, 12 months a year, throughout middle school and high school. Lots of kids do. Every month or two they do as much math study as you've done in total since, what, the Jimmy Carter Administration? And they've been doing it for years. And you thought you'd unseat them in the SAT?

I think this bolsters your claim that hard work pays off. It just takes more hard work than you expected.

You think no one will believe that you're mathematically inclined? Well, why not? What this evidence suggests to me is that Debbie gets a 99%ile when Debbie does 99%ile-worth of work and gets less when she does less work, and that 99%ile, while possible, is a huge amount of work for Debbie, as it is for the rest of us.

And I think that your intention to study math, at this age, without being forced to, is a plausible definition of "mathematically inclined."

SteveH said...

The SAT is not an intelligence or aptitude test. It might be if it wasn't so important. Since it is, enormous effort is put into beating the test with preparation. This preparation arms race pushes the questions away from math because SAT math has such a limited domain. The test cannot tell the difference between aptitude and preparation.

At the very low end, it's about math preparation, but this is not difficult math - the kind that would tell you anything about aptitude. The SAT makes the test more difficult by limiting time and making the questions tricky. This might reflect aptitude, but it also reflects preparation, and everyone prepares.

At the top end, scores change dramatically with just a few right or wrong answers. This has clearly been described in other threads. Even if one has a high aptitude for math, he/she will easily be beaten without a proper preparation for the timing and tricks specific to the test.

If you assume that everyone prepares, you might say that it once again reflects aptitude or a willingness to prepare (both useful attributes), but then you have the error range of the test. At the upper range, one or two errors can have a huge effect on your score; an effect that isn't entirely discounted when your college application is evaluated.

Overall, it's a test of SAT preparation and a test of performance test taking. It does not have a lot to do with math aptitude. If they wanted that, they would allow you to substitute the SAT II Math for the regular SAT math.

This is Bostonian's continued attempt to push this view in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Educational opportunity should be offered to those who prepare. Whether or not there is a correlation to IQ is immaterial. In that sense, one could argue that the SAT (based on preparation) is a proper test. However, the regular SAT is testing preparation in something other than math.

SteveH said...

Debbie, Did you ever take the test with more time? If so, does your score go up consistently? For many, it's easy to look at every question and know immediately that you can solve it. The performance timing of the test can be the killer. Math departments don't offer performance degrees. SAT speed is never expected in college or in real life.

Debbie Stier said...

@Glen I think you're right. I underestimated the amount of hours of "hard work" by a few years!

And yes, I read voraciously (often a few books per week). I'm an obsessive (though not necessarily careful) reader. I'm more into quantity (unless I'm reading a beautiful novel). This made the reading a bit harder for me than I would have thought (i.e. I had to find the right pace -- fast enough to finish, slow enough to be careful).

@SteveH With more time (add 10-15 minutes) I can score 18 or 19 out of 20 right consistently.

palisadesk said...

The SAT did once correlate closely with IQ measures (notably the Weschler and the Stanford-Binet) but this has not been true for some time. Mensa and other "high IQ" societies do not accept SAT scores after 1994 to meet eligibility requirements, precisely because they are no longer "intelligence" tests but also measure knowledge and taught skills to a much larger degree than the previous incarnations of the SAT.

Bostonian said...

There are psychologists who think the SAT is a A Good Intelligence Test , and there are others in that NYT debate who disagree.

Anonymous said...

What is most entertaining is that there is serious disagreement (even among experts, it seems) about how well two sets of numbers (IQ test and SAT) correlate with each other.

This really shouldn't be a matter of opinion :-)

Mark Roulo

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The correlation between IQ and SAT depends on which IQ test you use, but there isn't that much debate about the numbers.

One study (in 2004) is
Scholastic Assessment or g? The Relationship Between the Scholastic Assessment Test and General Cognitive Ability
by Meredith C. Frey and Douglas K. Detterman

They got correlations of 0.82 and 0.483 (0.86 and 0.72 with appropriate statistical correction for artifacts of the sampling). These are very high correlations.

shows similar correlations of the ACT with IQ measures though the SAT test had a somewhat higher correlation with the ASVAB test than the ACT did.

I don't believe that there is much dispute about the high correlation between results on IQ tests and results on SAT and ACT tests. I believe the debate is about how to interpret that high correlation, and what it means about what the SAT, IQ, and ACT tests are really measuring.

If someone can point me to studies which show a low correlation between SAT scores and widely-used intelligence tests, I'd be interested in seeing them.

Note: the correlations are high, but not so high that there isn't still a huge amount of scatter. Any tests gives you just a snapshot of how you did on one day on a particular test. It is quite common for an intelligent person to do poorly on a test.