kitchen table math, the sequel: 2/27/11 - 3/6/11

Friday, March 4, 2011

contingency budget for NY schools

In another thread, lgm asked about the contingency budget for this year in New York.

The contingency budget is the budget schools can impose by fiat if voters reject the proposed budget.

Here is an explanation by the NYSUT:
the law defines the contingency budget cap as the lesser of 4 percent or 120 percent multiplied by the CPI increase
Assuming I'm reading this right (pdf file), the CPI for 2010 rose by 1.6%.

That would put the contingency budget cap at 1.92%.

(There are various categories that can't be excluded from a contingency budget, such as tax certs. I don't know how those relate to the cap.)

Inflation in one picture
David Leonhardt

corn on the cob

Have been meaning to post this --

A few weeks back David Letterman showed a print ad that reads:
Corn cobs 4 for $1.00
Works out to 25¢ a piece

Kitchen Table Math

So I was just over at Art of Problem Solving cruising their textbooks (I'm loving their Introduction to Counting and Probability, which may be a good example of what Barry calls guided discovery), when I saw a prominent reference to Kitchen Table Math:

How nice! I thought.

So I clicked on the link.

LIFO -- Connecticut Considers a Change

A new post on Throwing Curves considers the possible defenses of what the popular media has already decided must go -- LIFO rules. The system everyone loves to hate. I got that. It's easy to think that getting rid of LIFO solves the problem. But I've tried to dig deeper into the issue and spark a broader debate.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

palisadesk on psychopaths in schools

re: Snakes in Suits, palisadesk writes:
*I* know how you came across this book -- I recommended it to you (about 2 years ago I think). I still recommend it. Robert Hare's first book, which has been revised a few times, is a don't-miss one: Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.

We tend to think of psychopaths as serial killers like Ted Bundy, but in fact the defining characteristic of psychopaths is a total lack of conscience. They are all about me, me, me and have no empathy for others, nor any scruples about exploiting or cheating others. Since they are totally focused on their own needs and goals, they usually are not criminals; however, they are often cunning manipulators, narcissistic power-trippers, and they wreak emotional havoc wherever they go. Snakes in Suits deals with such charmers in the workplace.

Robert Hare is a world-reknowned authority on the topic, and a lucid writer who gives insight into how to deal with such individuals. A rather high percentage of the population (something like 5% IIRC) has psychopathic tendencies, so we are all bound to encounter them.

They are less attracted to the "helping professions" than to other venues for their talents, but I have known more than one in public education, and these individuals taught very briefly before rising through the management ranks where they could do ever more damage on a wider scale.

Hare does share some useful strategies, as well as cautions against courses of action that are known to backfire badly. Counter-intuitively, therapy and counselling makes these individuals worse and more dangerous, since it enables them to con people even more effectively. They often fool mental health professionals.
True story.

A long ways back, I was trying to decide whether to sign with a particular agent.

I had some concerns, so after lunch with my possible new agent, I stopped in a bookstore and skimmed Without Conscience to see if he/she fit the profile for psychopathy.

I must have spent at least an hour with the book, finally reaching the conclusion that, no, my potential agent was not a psychopath.

The significance of the fact that I had just spent an hour of my life researching the question escaped me at the time.

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work

Suffering Souls: The Search for the Roots of Psychopathy
by John Seabrook
The New Yorker | November 10, 2008

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Ed and I are sitting here guffawing, reading this.

Starts slow, then hits warp speed in paragraph 4, with the Scots.

Of course, I love anything to do with the Scots and their bloody-mindedness.*

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America

* I'm probably using that term incorrectly. Good thing it's not likely to appear on the SAT.

the choice

in my district

Snakes in Suits

No idea how I came across this book --- but I may have to read it.

Robert Hare is a major researcher in the field.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work

for writers & writing

The Mumpsimus

I'm a huge fan of Scrivener's.

Have just ordered a copy of Patterns of English.

Downloading Bean next.

decline at the top - the best students fared worst

Back in 1977, having watched SAT scores fall for 15 years, the College Board, which developed and administers the SAT, engaged a panel to try to identify the underlying causes of the decline. A first hypothesis to be checked was whether the test had somehow become more demanding. But, no, to the contrary, indications were that scoring had become more lenient. A second prominent hypothesis was that the decline was due to changes in the demographics of the test takers. Analyses shows this hypothesis to be largely correct, but only for a brief while. Over the early 1960s, changes in the composition of the tested population accounted for as much as three-quarters of the test score decline—and, no wonder, for during this period the number of students taking the SAT tripled. Over the 1970s, however, though the test-taking population stabilized, the scores did not. Instead, the decline continued, even steeper than before, while the extent to which it could be ascribed to demographic shifts shrank to 30 percent at most. Furthermore, the scores that dropped most were those of the strongest students, the students in the top 10 percent of their class; the scores of students toward the bottom of the distribution held steady or even increased.

Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts
by Marilyn Jager Adams
American Educator | Winter 2010 - 2011

answer key - Glencoe Algebra 2 - Chapter 12

online (pdf file)

how many different groups of 4?

A school librarian would like to buy subscriptions to 7 new magazines. His budget, however, will allow him to buy only 4 new subscriptions. How many different groups of 4 magazines can he choose?

Counting Principle, Combinations, and Permutations Worksheet (pdf file)

The New Math SAT Game Plan

The New Math SAT Game Plan is a fantastic book.


Last night I read the section on counting.

Counting has been a massive struggle for me. I worked my way through Dolciani's chapter on combinations and permutations, did all the exercises, and ended up pretty much where I started out: basically, being "counting" blind: all the problems look alike. I can't tell the difference amongst them, and I can't tell when and where I would do what or why. I have been utterly flummoxed. *

Last night, reading Keller, everything clicked.** From one moment to the next, I abruptly understood why all the problems look alike (to me) and what the solutions have in common logically. I finished up Keller's 5-page explanation and did all of his exercises quickly and correctly. Easy-peasy.

Later on, I'll try Dolciani's exercises and see how I fare.

Here's how Keller explains the counting principle:
Your favorite restaurant offers a combo-meal. You get to pick one each from a menu of 6 sandwiches, 4 side salads, 5 beverages, 10 desserts and 3 sounvenir toys. You decide to eat at this restaurant once every day, ordering a sandwich, salad, beverage, dessert and toy every time, until you have had every possible combination. To the nearest whole number, how many years will it take you??

Do NOT attempt to list all of the combinations. Instead, learn the Counting Principle:

In any situation where you are faced with a series of decisions keep asking yourself: 

     "Now, how many choices do I have?"

until the last decision has been made. Then to find the overall number of combinations, you multiply together all the numbers of choices you had for each decision.

So in the example I have given you, you have to choose your sandwich from 6 choices, then your salad from 4 choices, your beverage from 5, your dessert from 10 and your toy from 3. And then you are done making decisions. So you multiply and find that there are

6 x 4 x 5 x 10 x 3 =3600 combinations. And then we can divide by 365 days in a year and find that it would take just under 10 years to order every combination. That's a long time but don't be surprised. When you have lots of decisions, or lots of options you get big numbers.

The example I just gave you is one of the easiest kinds of counting problems you'll see on an SAT. Many of the other varieties are a little harder to recognize and a little trickier to answer, as the next few examples will show.

After this, Keller shows how the solution to the problem where you've got a family sitting in a row and the mom and dad have to sit on the end chairs while the four kids can sit on any of the in-between chairs (and how many combinations is that???!!!) follows exactly from the solution to the how-many-combinations-in-the-restaurant problem.


I am SO happy to know how many ways a family of 6 can sit in 6 chairs with both parents occupying the end chairs.


Now how many choices do I have?

The New Math SAT Game Plan

* I have yet to use either of the two resources you all left for me: the Arlington Agebra Project and a web page created by a math professor who may have sent me the link via email (I don't remember - !). Since I don't remember, I won't link here. 

** Well...not everything. Still having trouble with the SAT counting problem that nearly did me in last summer - but I now understand the first part of the problem.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

data for students and teachers at Khan Academy

About Khan Academy

another year, another budget free-for-all

in Irvington

per pupil funding: $30k

superintendent compensation: $256k

district size: 1796 students

administrator to student ratio school year 1999-2000: 213.9 : 1

administrator to student ratio school year 2009-2010: 112.4 : 1

Time to re-litigate the curriculum director position.

And here's Andrew Cuomo on administrator compensation.

Monday, February 28, 2011

parents of school-age children

I missed this part of the public school survey:
Public schools get slightly lower marks from those Americans with children living at home. Among this group, 41% say public schools provide the best education while 47% say public schools are the worst.

Most Americans (54%) know a family whose children attend private school. Among families with children living at home, 62% know some who are in private school. 
In 2005, 42% of all Americans surveyed by Rasmussen thought public schools provided the best education for children; today, 41% of parents with children living at home say the same, while that number rises to 50% when you include people who don't have children living at home.

That's the opposite of what I assumed would be the case.


What happens to the views of parents whose children have grown and left home?

survey results for homeschooling

from the Rasmussen poll:
Although home schooling is a relatively new phenomenon, 45% of Americans have close friends or family members who home school their children. Among those who have children, 51% have home schooled friends of family members. [sic]

Among all adults, just 27% say the nation would be better off if more parents home schooled their children. Half (50%) say the nation would be worse off, while 23% are not sure.

However, among those who know someone who is home schooled, the response is much more favorable. Thirty-seven percent (37%) say the nation would be better off while 42% say the opposite.

Fifty percent (50%) of Republicans have home schooling friends or family members. That number falls to 36% among Democrats. Fifty-three percent (53%) of those unaffiliated with either party know home schoolers.

Public Schools Best or Worst?

what do you make of this?

Rasmussen polls from 2005 and 2011:

In 2005:
"a plurality of Americans (42%) continues to believe that public schools provide the best education for children. Nearly as many, 39%, say private schools are best while 11% say home schooling is the top approach."
In 2010:
Fifty percent (50%) of all adults believe public school education is generally better for students than private schools and home schooling. Thirty-five percent (35%) think private school is a better option. Eight percent (8%) prefer schooling in the home.
At the same time:
"(61%), however, say public school education has become worse over the past 10 years, a view virtually unchanged from May 2008."
Public schools up, private schools down, but people believe public school quality has declined "in recent years."

I don't know whether the questions were phrased differently.

Sixty-two percent of the public thinks public schools are a good investment for taxpayers. I think that's because most people don't know what the schools are spending or what the rate of increase has been over the past decades:
The amount of money actually spent annually on children in school districts across the United States varies widely. For the districts in which our sample members live, per-pupil spending in 2004–05 ranged from $5,644 to $24,939,with an average of $10,377. This last figure is slightly higher than the true national average of $9,435.

How well informed is the public about these financial commitments? Not very. Among those asked without the prompt listing possible expenses, the median response was $2,000, or less than 20 percent of the true amount being spent in their districts. Over 90 percent of the public offered an amount less than the amount actually spent in their district, and more than 40 percent of the sample claimed that annual spending was $1,000 per pupil or less. The average estimate of $4,231 reflects the influence of a small percentage of individuals who offered extremely high figures. Even so, the average respondent’s estimate was just 42 percent of actual spending levels in their district (see Figure 1).


On average, Americans underestimated teacher salaries in their states by 30 percent.

Is the Price Right?
By William Howell and Martin West
Summer 2008 / Vol. 8, No. 3

Gold Star teachers

I like this idea:
Proposals for a Cost-Conscious Era: "Gold Star Teachers"

By Rick Hess on October 13, 2010 9:30 AM

For decades, the go-to school improvement recipe has been to reduce class size. Any challenge to this status quo encounters a buzz saw of opposition from parents and teachers who like small classes. That's why national teacher-student ratios are down to 15:1 today. Yet the research backing across-the-board class reduction is thin, at best. International evidence shows no simple relationship between class size and student achievement. Some high-performing nations boast middle or high school class sizes of 40 to 50 students. Small classes are costly and the need to keep adding bodies forces school systems to be less selective and training to be less focused.

Given that 55% of K-12 spending funds teacher salaries and benefits, you can't cut costs without boosting the productivity of good teachers--which requires increasing class size. But trying to sell that argument to parents or teachers is a dead end. Hence, the Gold Star program offers teachers who are at least reasonably effective the opportunity, should they so choose, to teach more kids per class and to be rewarded for taking on a larger workload. Such a state-level program would offer a chance to reshuffle the incentives and create a productivity-enhancing dynamic.

Teachers whose students post larger-than-normal gains for at least two consecutive years would be eligible to opt into the program. While I have consistently explained that value-added data systems have real limitations, they do provide a systematic way to identify teachers whose students are at least improving in math and reading at better-than-average rates. This gives some assurance that these teachers are at least reasonably effective. Participating teachers would teach up to 50% more students than normal--say, 36 students rather than 24--and would be rewarded for their increased workload. Continued participation would depend on a teacher's students continuing to make larger-than-normal gains. Given data limitations, states would be advised to pilot such programs in grades four through eight.

While parents prefer small classes in general, small classes also frustrate parents whose children can't get seats in the class of a heralded teacher. The Gold Star program lowers these barriers by allowing access to the most effective teachers for more kids. Given the choice between a Gold Star Teacher serving more children and the alternative, many or most parents will likely prefer the larger class. But it is essential that it be a parental choice and not an administrative fiat.

Teachers and taxpayers would also win big. On average, given current teacher salaries and benefits, increasing class size by one student saves something like $3,000; so allowing a talented teacher to instruct 36 rather than 24 saves up to $36,000. Awarding the teacher half that amount yields an $18,000 productivity bonus (a 35% bump for the median teacher). The state and district would split the other $18,000. Even on a trial basis in grades four through eight, such a program could help states shave school spending by two or three percent--tallying hundreds of millions in some cases while rewarding excellent educators.
Parents have choice, teachers have choice, and spending declines.

Offhand, I don't think this approach would necessarily interfere with professional learning communities, but I don't know.


LIFO = last in, first out (last hired, first fired)

The Post has a story this morning about LIFO effects on teacher lay-offs:
The Bloomberg administration last night released a school-by-school list of where 4,675 planned teacher layoffs would occur under the "last in, first out" law, which requires that pink slips be handed out based on seniority rather than merit.

The breakdown shows the ax would disproportionately affect teachers in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods -- in The Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn -- that have the greatest number of newer instructors.

One of every five teachers in central Harlem middle schools would disappear, as would one-sixth of elementary school teachers in Mott Haven/South Bronx.

Overall, the mayor's preliminary spending plan recommends eliminating more than 6,000 teaching jobs -- 4,665 through layoffs and the rest through attrition.

The layoffs would trigger a complicated domino effect, shifting teachers who have seniority rights into jobs vacated by those with less experience.


The impact would be felt all across the city, with 155 schools projected to lose at least 20 percent of their current teachers.

Of that number, 21 schools would have to say goodbye to 40 percent of the instructors there now. Nine schools would have to part with half their current teachers.

Even schools in well-to-do neighborhoods do not go unscathed. Nearly one out of seven teachers in Manhattan's District 2 - running from the Battery to the Upper East Side - would lose their jobs.

PS 41 in Greenwich Village would have to let go of nearly a quarter of the teaching staff there now.

And many of the hundreds of new small middle schools and high schools -- created to replace large failing schools -- would be severely disrupted, according to city Department of Education data.

The Columbia Secondary School in Harlem could lose 14 of its 20 teachers - or a whopping 70 percent.

Poor Nabes to bear brunt of LIFO cuts

This level of disruption can't possibly be good for students, and it's certainly not good for the 4,675 teachers who are going to lose their jobs.

My preference would be for everyone to take a wage freeze or, if necessary, a cut in compensation so that no one who's competent has to lose his or her job. Ed once took a 10% salary cut at UCLA when times were bad. We survived, and so did everyone else.

A couple of years ago, NYU instituted a practice of freezing raises for older, better-paid faculty while continuing to give raises to younger faculty.  Everyone seems to be surviving this, too.

I was talking to a retired teacher here in town about why the union consistently chooses lay-offs of young teachers over reduction in compensation for all teachers. She told me unions can't choose wage freezes or cuts because pensions are calculated on final compensation.

But of course that's true for college professors with 401(k)s, too. The amount you and your employer pay into the account is based on current salary.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

the Oscars

The fact that I've been sitting here for hours writing posts about the SAT is a pretty good indicator of just how boring the Academy Awards are tonight.

Now I'm watching a woman accept her Oscar for Best Documentary (I think), and she looks like the same woman who accepted an Oscar for Best Documentary last year.


OK, it's not Best Documentary.

It's Best Short Documentary or some such.

Only thing keeping interest alive: the winners keep forgetting their wives' names. Christian Bale drew a blank on his wife's name and his daughter's name, which is quite a feat. The guy from NYU who just won for something or other remembered his girlfriend's first and last name, but not without some effort.

Marilyn Jager Adams on the 20-year decline in SAT scores

Lynn G left a link to Marilyn Adams' article on reading Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy, which opens with a reprise of the decline in SAT reading scores:
Few Changes on SAT Posted by Class of 2010.” “Scores on SAT College Entrance Test Hold Steady.” “Class of 2008 Matches ’07 on the SAT.” Year by year, point by point, it is hard to see the real news in these headlines. The real news is not that the SAT scores have held steady. The real news is that the SAT scores haven’t increased. The SAT scores of our college-bound students have been languishing not for one or two years, but for a long time. Several decades ago, scores were much higher.

The SAT score decline began in 1962, nearly 50 years ago. From 1962 to 1980, math scores fell 36 points to 492 while verbal scores fell 54 points to 502. Since 1980, the math scores have been gradually climbing back and are now at 516. Fluctuations aside, the verbal scores remain unchanged, even today study at 502.

If I were writing the headline for the next newspaper story on the SATs, here’s what you’d see: “Seniors and Their SAT scores Sabotaged by Low-Level Textbooks.” And if the copyeditor would let me, I’d add an exclamation point! The literacy level of our secondary students is languishing because the kids are not reading what they need to be reading.


To be sure, whether scores on the SAT exams truly reflect relevant or important intellectual or academic proficiencies remains a topic of discussions. Yet, the SATs are not the only indication that the literacy growth of our secondary students has fallen behind.

Between 1994 and 1998, the United States joined 19 other developed countries in an international evaluation of adult literacy levels. As compared with their peers in the other countries, the literacy scores of older U.S. adults (36 years old and up) were quite high, ranking in the top five. In contrast, the scores for younger U.S. adults (35 years old or less) ranked in the bottom half of the distribution by every measure. Among young adults with a high school diploma or less, those from the United states fell at the bottom of the pile, ranking 19th out of 20th. Even among participants who had completed four or more years of postsecondary education, the scores of our young adults were below the average for same-aged and like educated peers in other countries. The young adults in this study would have graduated from high school between 1974 and 1998, during the period when the verbal SAT scores were bottoming out.

Terri W on vocabulary in Master Reynard

Terri W wrote:
I'm currently reading Jane Fielding's Master Reynard: The History of a Fox to my kids as our night-time book, it's an elementary read-aloud from about 100 years ago ... and on many pages, there's at least one word I've never even *heard* before, let alone know the definition off the top of my head.

(Admittedly, it's generally the nature-related stuff like "furze" and "sett," but still...)

And the sentences!

"The glimpse I got of the face of the precipice showed that the ivy had lost all its leaves, the bared stems standing out plainly against the black fissures that seamed the great wall of rock besprinkled with sparks which in their fall resembled shooting stars."

Or this gem:

"Of course, had the matter of digging by day, in which lay the sting of the underground annoyance, been brought to an issue, we foxes had not a shadow of right on our side; because we knew that the earth belonged to the badger by right of excavation, and that we were there on sufferance only as long as he found us tolerant and agreeable."

None of our modern day early elementary readers have that kind of complexity. And the ones I quote above were not ferreted out for their uniqueness -- I just opened to random pages -- the whole book is like that.

My 4 year old was a little wiggly the first few nights, but now he's used to it and is able to follow the story.

thinking like a 13-year old with Asperger syndrome

I've been pressing C. to 'think like a 13-year old with Asperger syndrome,' as LexAequitas advises. Today C. got the hardest question in a section right because he thought like a 13-year old with Asperger syndrome, and I missed the same item because I didn't.

from the Blue Book, Sample Test 3, Section 7, page 541
Both authors agree on which of the following points?

(A) A maritime environment would have presented unique challenges to early Americans.
(B) The first Americans most likely subsisted on mastodons and other big game.
(C) Overland travel to the New World would have been difficult during the most recent ice age.
(D) It may never be definitively determined when America was initially settled.
(E) The Clovis people were most likely the first Americans.
The two arguably correct answers are C and D. I chose D after C. said he was choosing D. We compare notes sometimes when we're doing sample tests. Bad habit.

Then C. went back and changed his answer to D on grounds that in fact neither author had actually said, explicitly, that it may never be definitively determined when America was initially settled.

Never break the Asperger rule.


Michael Weiss on 'markedly' vs 'obviously'

re: Steve H's SAT question:
The following line is from an SAT excerpt where the author really(!) dislikes the way science was being taught (in 1939).

(24) "As to the learning of scientific method, the whole thing is palpably a farce."

3. The word ‘palpably’ (line 24) most nearly means
A. empirically
B. obviously
C. tentatively
D. markedly
E. ridiculously

The answer is B.
Here's Michael Weiss:
Markedly is wrong because, notwithstanding the fact that its dictionary definition is virtually identical to that of obviously, the two words are used in quite different ways. Markedly is only used in comparisons: Today is markedly warmer, my son is markedly taller than my daughter, this question is markedly harder than the other. You would never say: My son is markedly tall or Today is markedly warm. So markedly is not equivalent to palpably in the given sentence.

Not to put too fine a point on it: Of the two choices, "obviously" is markedly a better fit than "markedly," and so it is obviously the right choice. :)

Crimson Wife on vocabulary in older books

Ever since our county library system's big book giveaway last September, I've made it a priority to borrow the older titles on my "to-read" list before they are removed from circulation. So most of the books I've read in recent months were published in the late '80's or early '90's. I've been surprised at how much richer the vocabulary is compared to recently-published books aimed at a similar audience. I've found the need to keep a dictionary handy while reading because I keep encountering unfamiliar words.

Vocab in books published prior to the 80s is much larger and more varied.

And: lots of the SAT Critical Reading passages are drawn from books published prior to the 70s.

A couple of years ago, I bought a copy of Penrod for C and was astounded at the difficulty of the vocabulary. I loved the book as a child, and I doubt many children today could read it.

Elizabeth King on guessing

[T]he SAT is a test designed such that you aren’t rewarded for guessing. If you answer a question correctly you earn 1 point; if you leave it blank you lose nothing. However, if you answer incorrectly, you lose one quarter of a point. Obviously you have a lot to gain by getting an answer correct and so many students use guessing strategies to be successful on the test. Some students have a rule of thumb that if they can eliminate two of the five choices, they’ll guess, because theoretically they have a statistical chance of 1/3 of getting it right. If they guess on 9 questions and get 3 right (which pure statistics tell us they would), that would mean they gain 3 points, lose 1.5 (6 x .25), and net 1.5 (which actually ends up rounding up to a net of 2).

Sounds great, right?

So how come I’m not an avid fan of guessing? How come it’s not one of my primary strategies for my students both in private tutoring and in Outsmarting the SAT? Am I doing them a disservice by not advocating the practice for everyone?

I don’t believe so, and this is why:

A student guessing on a standardized test is not a true random guesser and ETS knows it.

Say I’m working on a sentence completion question and I have confidently eliminated two answer choices, so I’m left with three words: histrionic, cataclysmic, and hierarchical. First, let me point out that the folks reading this post have a better chance of making a statistically random guess than someone who has read a sentence directly related to one of these words. However, even without seeing the question, we’re still not going to be completely random–I may choose the word histrionic because I’m a teenager and my dad uses it to describe me (and though I’ve never bothered to ask him what he means, it may be “a sign”), or I may ignore it because it looks like the word history and I don’t think that’s related to the sentence I’ve just read.

While a student working through the test may not be as long-winded in his rationale for choosing or ignoring a particular word, sometimes a mere “oh yes, I’ve heard that before” can sway a student. Or, if the last two answers were C, a student will usually not select C as his guess (when really the pattern of answers is completely irrelevant.) I honestly believe that ETS knows exactly what they’re doing when they include words that look like one thing and mean another or words that are more ubiquitous than others. They make true random guessing that much more difficult.

The definition of educated guessing is that one makes a guess informed by additional factual information. In these circumstances it is often very difficult for a student to sort through facts and his gut feelings. For some students this is a great boon: they’re the kids whose instincts are usually right on, and after plenty of connoisseurship of their own propensity to guess correctly, I advise them to go right ahead and do so.

And then there’s me. I am the The Worst Guesser On Earth. I categorically do not, no way, no how, ever guess on the SAT. Why? Well ignoring that I usually don’t need to, on the rare occasion that I’m caught without a clue, I guess wrong. It’s like a hex. I don’t know why this is the case, but evidently my own biases and “educated guesses” are way off track.

Educated Guessing, Statistics, and Strategy for the SAT
January 9, 2010
This is a woman who consistently scores in the vicinity of 800 on all 3 sections of the SAT, and she doesn't guess.

I've stopped doing any guessing myself.

Not on reading, not on writing, not on math. If I don't know the answer, I leave it blank.

Outsmarting the SAT

Outsmarting the SAT

guessing hurts, part 2

I'm looking at page 499 in the Blue Book.

There are 67 questions on the 3 Critical Reading sections.

If you answer 64 questions correctly and leave 3 questions blank, you score 800.

If you answer 64 questions correctly and answer the other 3 questions incorrectly, you score 780.

That is a big penalty.

I follow the logic of the penalty for wrong answers. It's a correction for guessing.

But the 1/4 point deduction over-corrects because in reality students don't make random guesses. In reality, they systematically guess the wrong answer. At least, that's what I see with C.

I'm telling C. not to make any guesses at all.

I'll let you know how that goes.

guessing hurts

C. and I finished all the Critical Reading passages of Test 2 in the "Blue Book" today.

He scored 700.

We figured that if he had skipped the questions he didn't know instead of answering and getting them  wrong, he would have scored a 720 or 730. (C. remembers 730; I recall 720.)

That's an important difference because 30-points can be make-or-break in college admissions.

Speaking of which, various metanalyses of SAT coaching put the gain from test prep in the vicinity of 30 points:
Does test preparation help improve student performance on the SAT and ACT? For students that have taken the test before and would like to boost their scores, coaching seems to help, but by a rather small amount. After controlling for group differences, the average coaching boost on the math section of the SAT is 14 to 15 points. The boost is smaller on the verbal section of the test, just 6 to 8 points. The combined effect of coaching on the SAT for the NELS sample is about 20 points.

The Effect of Admissions Test Preparation: Evidence from NELS:88 (pdf file)
Derek Briggs
May 1, 2007
Is this a wisdom of the crowd moment?

I've always assumed parents were being more-or-less ripped-off by the test prep companies. But if 30 points matter to colleges, and test prep companies raise scores by 30 points -- and those 30 points matter most to selective colleges -- then parents are right.


The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition

The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition

tipping point, part 2

The Worthwhile Canadian Initiative post about a gender tipping point in occupations reminded me of this passage from a TIME story on college admissions:
Roughly 58% of undergraduates nationally are female, and the girl-boy ratio will probably tip past 60-40 in a few years. The divide is even worse for black males, who are outnumbered on campus by black females 2 to 1.

...[C]colleges are quietly stripping the pastels from brochures and launching Xbox tournaments to try to close the gap in the quality and quantity of boys applying. "It's a gross generalization that slacker boys get in over high-performing girls," says Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions at Kenyon College, "but developmentally, girls bring more to the table than boys, and the disparity has gotten greater in recent years."

Of course, admitting this is taboo, as Delahunty learned two years ago. She was in marathon committee meetings, stacking glorious girls on the waiting list while less accomplished boys wiggled through, when she got an e-mail informing her that her own daughter had been wait-listed. The experience inspired her to write a confessional Op-Ed, "To All the Girls I've Rejected," for the New York Times, responses to which lit up her inbox.


But when it comes to private-college admissions, the law is murky, the process opaque, the needs of the institution primary. This includes ensuring that the freshman class is not 70-30 female, because that makes the school less attractive to male and female applicants alike. U.S. News & World Report found that the admissions rate of men at the College of William and Mary, for example, was an average of 12 percentage points higher than that of women--because, as the admissions director memorably told the magazine, "even women who enroll ... expect to see men on campus. It's not the College of Mary and Mary; it's the College of William and Mary."
If there is a gender tipping point phenomenon in occupations, should we expect to see the same (or similar) phenomenon in college applications and enrollment?