Archive for February, 2014

“Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies In American College And University Admissions”

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

This is a quick acknowledgement of a paper by William C. Hiss and Valerie W. Franks ( as well as a KQED audio interview hosted by Michael Krasny ( which suggests that applicants to colleges should have an option to not submit SAT and/or ACT scores as part of their admission application.

I highlight this work because it is a fact that SAT and ACT testing are of little educational value and, as concluded in the study by Hiss and Franks, have little relation to a college student’s graduation success. However, this conclusion is of no surprise and the study would have perhaps been more enlightening if it had used a null hypothesis instead where they look for zero correlation between SAT/ACT test scores and college academic outcomes.

I view SAT and ACT testing organizations simply as businesses that provide an increasingly obsolete service and are fighting for survival (in the same vein that Kodak went through) – although test prep is rising as a new mass production business with significant financial stakes; a symbiosis of sorts. Historically, the analytics these tests provided were useful but we now know that a portion of test takers are able to game this system and measurement of academic strength needs to also include soft skills. An agreeable facet to the discussion on the KQED radio show is that college admissions offices should feel free to treat SAT/ACT scores as they see fit. There should be no hard and fast rule that SAT/ACT scores should be a specific part of the admission decision. Perhaps these testing organizations could rise to the occasion and offer analytics of the applicant’s statement of purpose or interview.

This study also focuses on the use of SAT and ACT scores in the college admissions process. But standardized testing has also infested the rest of primary and secondary education in the US and one can simply view the SAT/ACT tests as the final episode of pre-college educational assessment. I view this as the result of testing organizations trying to appear relevant – how else can one explain that a sensible examination system has not arisen in the US when it exists in many other parts of the world? So in order for SAT/ACT to become a non-factor and allowed to fade into memory, it needs to be cleared from the entire educational chain.

Actually, I can accept SAT/ACT as a fixture in the Proof stage of youth leadership development. Not requiring these scores for admission applications can be a distinctive marketing feature for the colleges that choose to go that route. However, such a feature does not seem to me to have any competitive advantage because the upside for admitted students will balance with the downside for the peer group. The argument that High School GPA would be a more reliable filter is not convincing since this statistic is cumulative and does not account for learning styles and differences (especially where a student’s learning style does not match what the school offers).

So, perhaps the best approach would be for high school educators to insist that testing agencies supplement the tests with personality and soft skills components, so that each student can decide which post-high school path is the best one for them. Use the SAT/ACT to create opportunities, not limit them.

Viewing Education as a Parent

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

One of the things that I am able to do is look at education from more perspectives and with more experience than most people. I have been in an educational setting for all but a few years of my life – as a student and an educator. I would also add the perspective I gained as a science fair judge. I also have been viewing education from an involved parent perspective – all the way from pre-school to university. Pulling together my thoughts on education has been one of the main drivers for me developing the YCISL. In this entry, I form a compare and contrast perspective on education.

Like most things, education is average and that is what it aims for. In a broad generality, educational quality seems to be stretched out along a gaussian distribution with a peak mostly around the middle (I am not stating this as a fact, more of a likelihood based on personal observation). And I am not referring to just the US educational system but inclusive of all education around the world. If one isolated just the US, I would also guess that it would have its own gaussian distribution (i.e., bell curve too but perhaps shifted along the x-scale).

An interesting dynamic though is that the distribution isn’t just ordinarily diffusive with socioeconomic forces at play, but there are temporary forces that push the quality up and down. One current up-pushing force is the budding growth of online content providing supplementary learning and reinforcement opportunities; this force will continue as we try to figure out how to make it better and format it for better learning. One down-pushing force is the emphasis on flat standards.

BOOK: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

This book was quite different from the others I usually read and comment on. I liked it because it contained the author’s own personal experiences and these experiences were things that I am interested in. Well, at least the first half of the book did (and I would recommend reading this book for this part). The second half felt – let’s just call it – less personal, more library-like.

The topic of failing and still finding ways to succeed (and find fulfillment and happiness) is a major premise in YCISL. Scott Adams in “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life” (2013) tells his personal story about the various paths he has taken, and analyzed what has succeeded and what has failed. He relates personal conclusions from his first-hand experience which I found substantive in life lessons. I would assume his messages are aimed at an adult audience but I think with a little reflection, they would become valuable messages for youth.

Here is a list of notes from my reading (selected 17 points from 115 total highlights – just too easy in the Kindle format):

1. “The most important metric to track is your personal energy.”

2. “It seemed as if other people were benefiting greatly from the wisdom of their friends and families.”

3. “Realistically, most people have poor filters for sorting truth from fiction, and there’s no objective way to know if you’re particularly good at it or not.”

4. “Failure always brings something valuable with it.”

5. “My hypothesis is that passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate.”

6. “Success causes passion more than passion causes success.”

7. “Good ideas have no value because the world already has too many of them. The market rewards execution, not ideas.”

8. “This was about the time I started to understand that timing is often the biggest component of success.”

9. “The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.”

10. “I know from experience that trying to be creative in the mid-afternoon is a waste of time.”

11. “One helpful rule of thumb for knowing where you might have a little extra talent is to consider what you were obsessively doing before you were ten years old. There’s a strong connection between what interests you and what you’re good at.”

12.”Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into successes.”

13. “Several years ago I gave a talk to a fifth-grade class. I started by asking them to finish my sentence. The sentence was ‘If you play a slot machine long enough, eventually you will…’ The class yelled out in unison ‘WIN!'”

14. “Positivity is far more than a mental preference. It changes your brain, literally, and it changes the people around you. It’s the nearest thing we have to magic.”

15. “Try to get in the habit of asking yourself how you can turn your interesting experiences into story form.”

16. “Another common trick is to hum the first part of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song and then speak in your normal voice right after.”

17. “The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.”