So What?

Let’s say it’s true people experience the kind of adversity that prevents them from having college-ready vocabulary and math skills. Let’s say the SATs are easier to pass for those who can pay for tutors. There’s no evidence to support this but let’s say it’s true.

The question is, so what? Why should professors and college-ready students be punished for this?

There is a ton of unfairness in life. Some people are born with diabetes or congenital heart defect. Some grow up in abusive families. Some don’t have parents who read to them and play with them. It all sucks.

But it won’t cure diabetics to put everybody else on no-carb diets and insulin. It won’t help the illiterate to ban books from colleges. There’s some sort of a misfortune involved in people having poor literacy and bad math skills as they graduate from high school. It can be genetic, it can be environmental, whatever. But filling college classrooms with people who can’t read an academic text – irrespective of how much tragedy led them to this situation – won’t help them and will do damage to others.

There are illiterate people in the world. Should we burn down the libraries to make them feel better?

I’m not getting this logic at all.

48 thoughts on “So What?”

  1. It’s not like imperfect scores not balanced out by the “adversity test” would prevent people from getting into college, it’ll just prevent them from getting into elite colleges (who are the only ones using the blasted thing anyway.) There’s nothing wrong with a state school. And someone who’s truly unprepared for college won’t get into Harvard with or without the adversity test (and probably couldn’t afford to attend in the first place.) Which is good; state schools tend to have programs geared at people who are academically unprepared, where they can learn the skills they need to be college ready. Or at least that’s true at my university; you’d know better than I do.


  2. The fact that Pete Buttigieg is so good at messaging is concerning, considering I really don’t want him to win the primary. Look around his website and you’ll see what I mean.

    Ultimately though, he is only popular with educated white voters, and I don’t see that changing in spite of his slick campaign. Black voters definitely aren’t swayed by that kinda shit. Uneducated white voters can be, but I don’t think they’ll like what he’s selling. And uneducated white voters are the biggest demographic group in the Democratic party. However, if Biden does much more weakly than expected and other candidates split the non-Pete vote, there could be a path for him. I don’t think it’s likely, but any chance of him winning the primary is terrifying to me. He’s much more savvy than Beto.


    1. For the life of me, I’ll never be able to understand the allure of the people like Buttigieg and Beto. They are so vapid, boring and narcissistic.

      Biden is gone, I’m afraid. He shows clear signs of age-related decline. Remember the fuss when Hillary fainted? We’ll see wall-to-wall coverage of Biden slurring his words and getting confused, and that’s it. This isn’t his usual gaff-proneness. It’s age-related. He’s not all there any more.

      We are left with Bernie as our only hope for a decent, electable candidate who isn’t a sociopath, an idiot, or a total neoliberal.


      1. Bernie is my choice unless one the sane nobodies somehow makes a miraculous ascent. As it is, I don’t even know why people like Steve Bullock are running.


      2. Age related decline?

        I think he just wants that sweet campaign cash (which btw, nobody has to return.)

        There’s this story when people are all, “Elect any person with a D after their name to prevent four more years of Trump and Republican control of any chamber and the sky from falling down! Shut up about their flaws!”

        Mr. Biden stunned Democrats and elated Republicans by praising Mr. Upton while the lawmaker looked on from the audience. Alluding to Mr. Upton’s support for a landmark medical-research law, Mr. Biden called him a champion in the fight against cancer — and “one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with.”

        Mr. Biden’s remarks, coming amid a wide-ranging discourse on American politics, quickly appeared in Republican advertising. The local Democratic Party pleaded with Mr. Biden to repair what it saw as a damaging error, to no avail. On Nov. 6, Mr. Upton defeated his Democratic challenger by four and a half percentage points.

        As Mr. Biden considers a bid for the presidency in 2020, the episode underscores his potential vulnerabilities in a fight for the Democratic nomination and raises questions about his judgment as a party leader. Mr. Biden has attempted to strike a balance since leaving office, presenting himself as a unifying statesman who could unseat President Trump while also working to amass a modest fortune of several million dollars.

        But Mr. Biden’s appearance in Michigan plainly set his lucrative personal activities at odds with what some Democrats saw as his duty to the party, linking him with a civic group seen as tilting to the right and undermining Democrats’ effort to defeat Mr. Upton, a powerful lawmaker who in 2017 helped craft a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act….

        Mr. Upton alluded to Mr. Biden’s praise in a debate with Mr. Longjohn the next day, and his campaign sent out a mailer stressing Mr. Upton’s bipartisan streak, including Mr. Biden’s description of him as “the reason we’re going to beat cancer.”

        A business-backed Republican group, Defending Main Street, ran digital ads on Facebook showing a grinning Mr. Biden and the crucial quote — “Fred Upton is one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with” — above a mock version of the former vice president’s signature….

        Maybe he’ll switch parties and primary Trump, lol.


        1. I have witnessed this kind of thing in my life. I grew up with it, actually. I recognize the signs. It’s sad because it’s quite random. Bernie, for instance, doesn’t have it. But Biden is starting to get it.

          I really liked him back when he ran with Obama, so it makes me sad.


    1. Yeah… all true. I currently have a bright student who wants to go to grad school. Problem is, we don’t prepare students for that. He will have taken a total of 2 literature seminars in his entire life. That’s it, that’s all we’ve got. Obviously, our degree is worth less.

      I’ve tried to make him more competitive by offering an independent readings course but… the university isn’t letting me do it. I offered to do it for free but it still can’t be done. Why? Because we don’t even have course designations for literature courses.

      We do remediation for 3 years and then try to cram the entire college program into the senior year. It’s ridiculous.


  3. I read this article “The SAT will assign a new score that factors in where you live and the crime level in your neighborhood”

    and do not understand why you think it would lead to Yale accepting not college-ready students. I thought it was almost impossible to be accepted to top schools for BA and that this new score would merely allow a few the best of the best disadvantaged students to be accepted.

    From the article:

    \ Yale has nearly doubled the number of low-income students and those who are first in their families to attend college to about 20% of new students.
    “This (adversity score) is literally affecting every application we look at,” Quinlan told the Journal. “It has been a part of the success story to help diversify our freshman class.”


    1. How hard is it for the Huffmans and the Laughlins to buy a disadvantaged area code for their stupid brats?

      That’s who this will favor. The dumb rich kids who can scam their way into a high adversity score.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. \ How hard is it for the Huffmans and the Laughlins to buy a disadvantaged area code for their stupid brats?

        Do universities have no information about the actual school an applicant went to? About the parents’s income level? I thought Yale and other prestigious universities demanded too much private information, including personal essays and such.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. How hard is it to hire someone to write you a total tear-jerker of an essay?

          The Laughlins and the Huffmans got their kids into prestigious schools by photoshopping their heads onto photos of athletes. And got them in on athletic scholarships in sports they never played, not once. How is the university going to know? Other than by hiring an investigation team, I have no idea.

          In my program at Yale, we had a daughter of a Russian bandit who was hiding from justice in the Cyprus. She was dumb to the point of slight oligophrenie. Obviously had no plans to have a career in Hispanic studies. Or in anything. How was she admitted?

          Her father was mega rich. A total crook. He could hire a team of people to write a convincing application for her.

          And then there was a guy from China who came with perfect credentials. Then he arrived and it became clear that he spoke no Spanish. Not a word. He just wanted to get into the US. And guess what? He stayed in the US. I have more stories like these that I witnessed personally.


  4. Regarding not Yale colleges, the article says

    “Colleges will be able to see the number when considering applicants, but students themselves won’t be told their scores.”

    So I understand the colleges will see 2 kinds of numbers: what a student has actually received (f.e. math skills score) and this new additional score reflecting social and economic backgrounds. Won’t each college and each college department decide for itself how to factor in this new score? It is not like the new score will automatically override poor SAT results. Why do you think it will lead to accepting numerous unprepared students then? Some colleges like yours make it their mission, while others do not and will not.

    Besides, if both students receive very close SAT results, yet the Environmental Context Dashboard is very different, does it not mean that the student coming from poverty is much smarter than somebody from a rich family who needed 101 tutors to receive the same SAT results? I think the new score can be used for good.


    1. The Environmental Context stuff can very easily be faked. You can still bribe your way into having somebody sit your SAT exam for you but that’s harder. (It has been done, see the recent college admissions scandal).

      This is all about who can afford to fake a more pathetic past.


      1. And by the way, the SATs are on the way to be abolished altogether. Why? Because dumb rich kids and their parents are annoyed that smart Asian immigrant kids are outdoing them by a huge margin on these tests.

        The invocations of smart black kids from Chicago Southside is a sham. It’s a front for what’s really going on. Nobody gives a crap about those kids. This isn’t done to benefit them. As we keep hearing this week, they should all be aborted anyway because it’s racist to have them in existence.


  5. My SAT and GRE scores were all great and it reflected very good command of English, strong background in math, and good education in French. It was not about tutors, and I did not study for these tests.

    My LSAT, and I have taken it three times, is good-enough but not great. There are two reasons: 1/ I have never been good at solving those visual-spatial logic games under time pressure. My 6th grade teacher said it had to do with manual dexterity, I have good-enough but not great hand-eye coordination, so I get lower scores in that expression of intelligence than I do in others. 2/ The LSAT is on Saturday, like the SAT and the GRE, at the end of the semester, and somehow I am now more exhausted and distracted now on those Saturdays than I was in high school and college, despite having gone through the same experience — a semester + finals.

    Conclusion: stress and circumstances do influence these scores. BUT I would say we should just throw out the test. It costs money to take and it is a private company that administers it. WHY use it? (I do think it means something, everyone in my college class had very high scores on it and it did mean we had certain kinds of skills, ability to focus very sharply, etc., but if you look at my less-good LSAT [and I claim I would be a GREAT lawyer] you can see that those super-high scores do not mean everything.)


    1. P.S. on practical meaning of my non-stellar LSAT score, though: I get wait listed but not admitted to the super-top schools. At the next tier I do get in, and even get little tuition discounts. So I still could have, at least in terms of getting in somewhere decent.


    2. What’s the alternative, though? What else can ensure that students come minimally prepared for college? I routinely teach students who are incapable of of reading an academic text and understanding it. If I could have people with decent vocabulary, it would be transformative.

      And in the STEM departments it’s worse. People don’t know basic algebra and are unprepared to comprehend it. The math department managed to graduate one black student in years after admitting 18% black students. These are people who wasted time and money in a program they were destined to flunk out of. Who is being helped by this?


      1. ” Who is being helped by this?”

        Lots of people, just not the students themselves (or their families or communities) or the frustrated faculty.

        My golden rule for institutional irrationality: If it’s not working like it’s intended to then it will be changed, if it’s doing what it’s intended to do then nothing short of major acts of God will change it.

        You brought this up as a problem…. anyone who got upset is benefiting from the system working as it is right now.

        nb. the intended goal might not be something that anyone can consciously articulate, and the benefit might be subjective to the person receiving it (while it might seem detrimental to anyone else).


        1. We are trying to admit more Hispanic students. I’d obviously benefit from more Hispanic students around. But! We aren’t managing to graduate them. Their graduation rates are far, far beyond every other group. So why are we trying to attract them to something that will fail them?

          I tell prospective Hispanic students, go to a community college first, see how it goes, it’s cheaper, it’s a good start. As a result, I’m a racist who hates Hispanics. Say people who don’t speak a word of Spanish and don’t even hang out with any Hispanics.


          1. Wanting these students to come to us so that we can improve our diversity stats is not racist. Wanting them to not come if they will only suffer when they do is racist. It’s hard to keep track.


      2. Conferring STEM credentials on visibly disadvantaged students (which is not the same as teaching STEM to students) is the most satisfying thing that a modern liberal can do. They do it for themselves and their conscience. It’s how secular liberals redeem their souls (which they claim to not believe in) from an original sin (which they call privilege but functions in the same way).

        I wish we could just send them to church–say what you will about organized religion, but at least they would put their own money in the collection basket instead of demanding that disadvantaged students take out loans for programs that they flounder in.


        1. The best comment EVER! I can see that you have really suffered your way to this argument. That’s how my colleagues in math got when we discussed this. They suffer indescribably.


          1. I do suffer, but I suffer far less than a kid who flounders through a subject, passing classes by the skin of their teeth because they got partial credit for writing down a sort-of-correct combination of symbols that they don’t understand. That is a truly miserable way to spend several years of college. But we refuse to steer them to something else because we have our guilty consciences.


          2. Some of it is also to get revenge for wrongs inflicted on us in childhood. I know one person who doesn’t even like the STEM field that they’re in, who wishes they were doing something else, and has talked about career changes. But when they were young someone told them they won’t succeed in STEM, and gave a bigoted reason (“People like you can’t do it”) and so they say that steering kids away from STEM is something that must only be done with the utmost care, under the most clearly warranted circumstances. And when I say “What about all these kids who are floundering with basic math after a few years in college?” the response is always “Well, maybe, you know, you really have to look at the circumstances, we can’t just…”

            Because somebody tried to steer them away for bigoted reasons, it therefore follows that we must be constantly on the lookout to make sure we aren’t steering people away for bigoted reasons, and even when the reason is “They can’t do high school math” we must be super-careful and apply a few more layers of scrutiny before maybe, just maybe, we say “OK, yeah, do something else.”

            This is all to heal some childhood trauma.


        2. “I wish we could just send them to church”

          So true… I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a truly non-religious or areligious society. There are post-religious societies which immediately start building up supernatural structures from scratch, whether narratives of sin and redemption (privilege and diversity) or engage in superstitious rites…. (I’m starting to think of non-elite corruption in a lot of the post USSR as a kind of pagan spirit worship – offerings made to unknowable forces that might return favor).


      3. Alternative … well back in the day, grades and difficulty of courses in HS. We had it, top eighth of each h.s. gets a place at u of c, top third gets a place at a cal state, rest get place at cc which is free and guaranteed transfer to a 4 year if you get certain grades in certain courses. This makes commercial test redundant.


  6. Alternative … well back in the day, grades and difficulty of courses in HS. We had it, top eighth of each h.s. gets a place at u of c, top third gets a place at a cal state, rest get place at cc which is free and guaranteed transfer to a 4 year if you get certain grades in certain courses. This makes commercial test redundant.


    1. I’m in college, and we give out completely undeserved grades all the time, just to stop the whining, the moaning, the complaints to the disability office, the tales of woe, etc. And this is without the pressure from the parents.

      But even aside from that. Everybody has their own standard. Everybody grades according to that standard. It’s good for the stats to have students who go on to college. That in itself promotes grade inflation. Plus, it’s so easy to make corruption part of the process when it’s all about one teacher deciding.


      1. I may be missing something, but when you say we all have our own standards, do you mean inside our heads (I agree) or in our marking and assessment practice as academics (I would argue that we should strive very hard to have common standards there)?

        In the UK we have agreed rubrics we mark to, cross-moderation (where colleagues who didn’t teach on the course check that marking is consistent and that expectations/what it takes to get an A are reasonably aligned with other modules at the same level), double marking for hard-to-quantify stuff like student presentations, and blind second marking for single assignments which make up a large proportion of grades (e.g. honours projects)). I am pretty confident that standards are consistent across my department, and progress between levels (a 300 class has higher expectations than a 100 class). I’ve also taken part in cross-marking with another department in our faculty, and again we’re pretty consistent.

        I’ve also acted as external examiner for another UK university, and have colleagues who do that, and we have our own externals who come in and look at samples of work and check standards. Now, most of this checking is done between similar universities – so regional research-and-teaching places external for each other, elite research-led national universities external for each other, teaching-led universities external for each other – but there is overlap.

        It’s nothing like the nationally taken exam level of standards-comparing of say the SAT or our school-level exams, but it also provides some check – and I get the impression that there is much less of that in the US, unless multiple people teach sections of the same large module with a common exam which all the students take, and “standardisation” mostly consists of individual judgement or making sure that the student happy sheets aren’t too far out of whack (plus of course one hears of pressure on staff not to fail too many paying customers…. sigh).


        1. Standards can be similar across one department or university but not the whole country. If I were to grade my students based on the same criteria I was graded on as a student, I’d have to fail 100% of my students. Because they have never read a whole book in their lives. And I read 3 a week since childhood. I graduated with a BA in Spanish after taking 60 credit hours of literature for people who read 3 books a week. My students graduate with a BA in Spanish after taking 6 (not sixty. Six) credit hours of literature for people who never read. So of course my As are in a different planet than these students’ As. These are two different worlds.

          People in the US believe that it’s grossly unfair that students who speak 3 languages since childhood and read voraciously, etc should be getting into better schools than those who can’t write a complete sentence in their only language. They believe that if you mix everybody up, their intellects and skills will magically start to match. In reality, though, what’s going to happen is that everybody will get the same crappy education.


          1. Except that they won’t even get the same crappy education, because a subset of those with real skills and preparation will find a way to challenge themselves anyway. Are the classes too easy? Some of them will do extracurriculars. Or internships. Or develop technology skills in what used to be called machine shops and electronic shops but are now called “maker spaces” to be hip. Or they’ll do self-study at the library. Or something.

            Driven kids will distinguish themselves somehow, no matter how hard we work to make them work less.


            1. Absolutely. That’s exactly what I did in my extremely crappy Soviet school. You can’t engineer these differences away. You just can’t.

              What you can do is engineer not people but society away from the idea that you can’t survive without a college degree. That’s more practicable than trying to make sure that everybody is capable of college studies.


        2. Currently, everyone in my dept. (in a university) has wildly different standards but this has to do with a series of unfortunate factors and it does not have to be that way. When I was in HS, though, it was more or less known what the content of Algebra 1, Algebra 2, etc. were (the courses required for university entrance) and how competent you should be to get an A or a B. This without standardized tests or regimentation, but with communication, teacher development, etc. ALL of the current wildness has to do with non democracy and non support, impoverishment, etc.


            1. Well, I went to public schools. In HS there were all kinds of students — public schools take everyone. In college, well it was a highly selective one so everyone was a good student, but a lot were what are now called “nontraditional” — older, disabled, “first generation,” immigrants, and so on, and so forth. This whole idea that formerly students were “traditional” and now they are not is another part of the mythology that sustains current silliness.


              1. But how do you ensure high selectivity in the absence of a national standard? Grades? We all know that an A in one school doesn’t mean the same as an A in another school.

                I recently had a conflict with a student who was stunned by the idea that, in academic writing, sentences need to have verbs, and those verbs ideally need to be conjugated. She says she always got As for her writing in high school and even won a writing competition. Knowing her high school, I believe her. I can’t even say that the As are unfair in that context. But admitting that student on the strength of those grades wasn’t selective.


              2. To add to Clarissa’s point, I see a lot of writing of the sort that she describes. It is shocking to me that somebody could make it through 12 years of education in the English language and not get subject-verb agreement. Yes, even well-educated people can make mistakes, especially in complicated sentences like “The electron and the proton, though both fermions, are combined in a single atom, and has the characteristics of a boson.” The “has” should be “have”, but there is a singular noun earlier in the sentence (albeit in a separate phrase), so I can see why a person might write in a hurry and make that mistake.

                But I see much more basic errors of agreement, and in far less complicated sentences. And I see them repeatedly. How are we supposed to get this person to the “expected” level of a college graduate within the constraints of 4 years and roughly 120 semester units?

                Keep in mind that my state abolished remediation. Everyone is declared to be college-ready, by fiat.


              3. And also “would had thought,” “has saw,” “have teached” and my sentimental favorite “should of said.”

                My biggest problem with teaching hypotheticals in Spanish is that students have no idea how to do them correctly in English. So now I have to teach the English ones first and then teach them in Spanish.

                And this is just grammar. A student who is graduating with honors happily informed me that she can’t believe she read a whole book “Like, a whole book, start to finish

                ” in one of my courses. This was clearly an unusual occurrence for her.


  7. “somebody could make it through 12 years of education in the English language and not get subject-verb agreement”

    Well in the US (remembering my school days) the English ‘grammar’ taught in English class was bizarre fantasies with no basis in actual usage. None of it made any sense until I started learning Spanish… then I figured out what they had been trying to teach (and failing miserably because they were going about it all wrong)
    The grammar for those learning English as a second language is usually far superior to the superstitious nonsense that native speakers get. This has traditionally been one of the greatest values of foreign language instruction – in helping the learning think of their own language in a more holistic and detached manner. A goldfish doesn’t discover water as they used to say.


    1. Add to that the reluctance to correct the mistakes arising from “dialects”, the acceptance of Spanglish as a language, and the idea that knowing 3+ syllable words is racist, and you get an illiterate student body.


      1. “Add to that the reluctance to correct the mistakes arising from “dialects””

        Well their education leads them (if they have any capacity to think at all) to consider “dialects” as “the way normal human beings speak” and what their English teachers tell them as “the way weird people that no one likes speaks”
        The kind of English grammar that’s taught in US schools is like history* taught in Soviet schools – there’s so little connection to any recognizable reality that all but the most dull and conformist reject it outright.

        *substitute “history” with anything else that is taught in a demented way divorced from reality


        1. It’s even worse in my case because such students assume that my insistence on avoiding the double and the triple negatives stems from my being an immigrant and not speaking English too well. Their English teachers in high school never corrected them, and I suddenly reveal to them that this isn’t correct English. What are they supposed to assume? That I’m the one with a problem, of course


          1. “Their English teachers in high school never corrected them”

            Or they tried to correct them in a way that made them hate the teacher (and English). I remember a teacher who ranted on and on about how we shouldn’t pronounce ‘pin’ and ‘pin’ alike and that only stupid lazy people (like everyone we knew) pronounced ‘pin and ‘pin’ alike. It was many years later I realized she was talking about ‘pen’ and ‘pin’ (where I’m from everyone no matter how educated pronounced them the same – I still do except in very formal circumstances).

            When you were in school in the USSR did your teachers say things like ‘anyone who pronounces g like h in Russian is stupid and lazy and you should stop doing that unless you want to be stupid and lazy like them’ (while pronouncing g like h)? That kind of thing happens all the time in English speaking countries.


    2. But are all of your students not already taking what passes for a national test? Many of mine have all these problems and they are taking a national test (i.e. a test offered by a private company that many have decided to require). When we were open admissions they also had these problems (although before NCLB and certain other innovations in both K-12 and college the problems were less severe in my view — more just lack of knowledge as opposed to having had that cemented in somehow).


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