Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stuy student uncovers SAT score "secret"

Great story from Steve Koss on how to beat the SAT writing test: Volume

If you haven't seen this story, it's a gem, and well worth watching. A 14-year-old Stuyvesant HS student named Milo Beckman has taken the SAT twice and was disturbed when his Writing score on the second test was higher than on the first, even though he felt it was a weaker piece of writing that included (as he later confirmed for himself) a factual error that he himself termed a lie. The one thing that made his second Writing exam essay different was its longer length, which got him to thinking.

He managed to recruit other Stuy students to his inquiry and got from 115 of them their SAT Writing scores and the number of lines in their essays (he asked them to note this information when they took the exam). Sure enough, there was an exceedingly high correlation between number of lines in the essay and its score, so high that the probability of its being random was effectively zero. He cross-checked this finding by getting line counts and essay scores for two or more sittings of the SAT from the same students and found that, in NO cases did their scores for the longer essay fall below that of their shorter one.

An MIT professor has found similar results, claiming that he can predict 90% of the SAT Writing essay scores merely by their line counts. The College Board, of course, disputes these findings with at least a partially plausible counterargument.

To me, this is a perfect example of what education should be about, whether its math, science, social studies, or anything else. It's about questioning, about critical inquiry and creative yet intellectually sound exploration. About thinking not just outside the box, but about the box itself. What makes this story so great is the Milo did exactly that, and he did it by starting with his own direct experience, doubting the very efficacy of his own SAT Writing scores rather than just happily accepting the higher grade that he felt in his heart was somehow not valid.

So where in all of Joel Klein's vaunted education reforms, and in those of the rest of the ed deformers, does this sort of critical thinking and self-reflection and constructive exploration and analysis get taught, or at least cultivated? How does getting a 4 on an inane standardized exam translate into creative perception, critical introspection, and lateral thinking? Yet aren't these the skills we most admire in the true innovators and entrepreneurs, the ones who may or may not be perfect whiz-kids when it comes to their multiplication tables but who question or see what the rest of us fail to do? 

The Milo Beckman story was presented on ABC and can be found at the following HuffPost link:

Be sure to watch the video clip -- it's worth the three minutes just to see a NYC public school student who knows how to think, gather data, and analyze it.

Steve Koss

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