How High Can You Jump?


September 29th, 2014

As many of you know, I’m the proud parent of two great kids. My daughter is a sophomore in high school, and my son is now a senior and working on his college applications. A while ago, he and I were working our way through his SAT prep book when the remarkable happened. He relaxed his brow and placed his pencil beside the preparatory tome.

“Dad,” he began, and then exhaled. “I’ve finally figured out the SAT.”

A pang of relief struck through me, and my eyes opened wide. “That’s awesome,” I replied. “So, what’s the secret?”

I saw his face turn to a frown,  not the expression I would expect from a teenager who figured out the SAT and was about to achieve the coveted 2400 score.

“Did you ever read Gulliver’s Travels?” he asked me. “Remember how the Emperor of Lilliput decided that a person’s role in society would depend on how high they could jump? That’s the SAT. It’s just about how high you can jump, yet it affects the rest of your life.”

I was surprised by his perspective, but after reflecting more on standardized testing this past year, I’ve realized that my son was right. I shared his story with the College Board and ACT executives. Their response? These tests are about democratizing access to higher education, they said. They explained that before standardized testing, college admission was based on which prep school students attended, because admission officers could only appreciate the rigor of a few high schools’ curriculums.

When I told my son their response, he asked when standardized testing started. Over 80 years ago, I replied. He furrowed his brow.

He asked: “What have they done lately?”

Once again, I think my son is on to something.

Back in March, the College Board announced its plans to overhaul the SAT again. However, rather than overhauling the test again, it’s time to rethink how we analyze college readiness. One alternative was actually – though perhaps inadvertently – proposed by College Board President David Coleman himself. “What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities,” said Coleman, while announcing the new SAT this past spring.

Coleman’s right. We don’t need more tests. Instead of a new test that better reflects students’ high school work, why not use the work itself to assess readiness? The problems that existed 80 years ago, when admission officers couldn’t understand and compare more than a few high school curriculums, are no longer relevant. Today, data analytics can democratize education.

At eScholar, we have created a fresh way to assess college preparedness, which uses course grades and other academic information. Our technology looks at the big picture, which is a lot more insightful than a three-hour-forty-five-minute test, which most students probably didn’t sleep enough for. Rather than just a single score, our method creates an index. With the technology and data analysis capabilities available now, college readiness no longer has to be a one-time “How high can you jump” type of test. It can consider your cumulative hard work, your mastery of material over time and your more accurate self. To me, that sounds like what democratizing education is all about.

Just as life is a series of accomplishments, trials, and even failures, college readiness is an accumulation of experiences from your time in the classroom. Let’s democratize education by taking SAT and ACT scores in the context of a student’s complete body of work. Let’s bring education off its impractical island of Lilliput.

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