Making the Mean Less Mean: Strategic Reading in an SAT or ACT Math Prep Course

  “I had no clue what that problem meant.” “I got confused -- what does the mean mean?” “They can do the math, but they can’t understand the word problems.” “That problem was way too wordy, so I skipped it.” When you work with students in an SAT or ACT math prep course, you realize something quickly: you’re suddenly spending a lot of your time as a reading teacher. Solving math problems presents a host of reading pitfalls—from decoding technical jargon to making sense of convoluted prose.   A Student’s Perspective Take an SAT or ACT math prep course from a student’s perspective for a moment.   You suddenly must accept that “mean,” for example, no longer applies only to how your older brother treats you, but also to the arithmetic average of a set of numbers. You must agree that a statement like “a number squared is equal to 7 less than 35 more than that number” is both a sentence that can be understood and one that you actually care to understand! In short, you are learning a new language. But here’s the rub: Learning math as a language is not necessarily invested with all the fun and purpose of becoming fluent in French, so you can travel to Paris, explore, and enjoy touring the Louvre.  Instead, all too often learning this language looks a bit more like training a puppy to sit, shake, and roll over by cueing up discrete behavioral actions with verbal commands. Doing Math Stuff Consider a student learning word-problem translation. It often begins with providing a lexicon or translation key. Students are taught that “of” means “multiply” and “is” means “equals,” etc. However, this form of instruction is largely procedural: follow this recipe, and you’ll produce an equation that will make sense. In the end, students can be trained to respond to these cues and “do math stuff”… but can they make real math meaning? Doing math stuff—executing procedures, using recipes, writing out steps—does not necessarily lead to a meaningful outcome. In fact, we often see students “do math stuff” in an SAT or ACT math prep course but produce some outrageous, illogical conclusions: In a problem that involves a series of discounts applied to the value of a $100 dress, a student concludes that the dress costs more than $100! Yes, the student did math stuff, but that stuff lacked contextual meaning and any truly incisive check back from the student.   Plants growing according to regular increments suddenly start shrinking? Athletes running foot races suddenly reach break-the-sound-barrier rates of motion? And a student with 10 equally weighted test scores –  consisting of nine 80s and one 100 – enjoys the happy fate of earning a 90 average for the semester? What luck! All these scenarios are so magical as to be kind of funny, expressing some witty adolescent desire to be subversive. But, sadly, they are not. Instead, they reflect a common gap between translating math in a perfunctory manner and [...]

By |2022-02-04T15:56:01+00:00November 15, 2017|ACT SP, Instruction, SAT SP, School Programs, Special|0 Comments

A Matter of Time Part II: The Critics and Advocates of SAT and ACT Accommodations

  Controversy has existed for years around the subject of SAT and ACT accommodations, and that controversy seems to revolve around three critical themes: 1) Equity—Are all deserving students receiving fair access to SAT and ACT accommodations? 2) Legitimacy—Are the accommodations the right ones for the specific diagnoses? 3) Validity—Do these SAT and ACT accommodations truly accommodate the disabling conditions or rather do they modify the exam, undermining its standardization? Equity.  Equity is a serious matter: A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting SAT or ACT accommodations "were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school."  More than a decade later, the Chicago Tribune's review of data obtained under open records laws indicated in Illinois that the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average.  Schools in wealthy districts with predominantly white students were at the top of the list. Where there is wealth, there is an elevated level of advocacy and subsequently elevated levels of SAT or ACT accommodations.  That trend indicates that while accommodations are intended to level the playing field for disabled students, the administration of those accommodations is not working out equitably by socioeconomic factors. Legitimacy.  An interesting criticism on the legitimacy of accommodations has been offered by Boston University professor Ari Trachtenberg is his Sept. 2016 Chronicle of Higher Ed piece “ADA in the Classroom: Suitable Accommodation or Legalized Cheating?” He argues principally that there is a lack of research evidence for the connection between an accommodation and the disability.  “In effect, both the College Board and some colleges (which base their own policies for accommodations around the board’s practices) appear to be providing an advantage to some students on rigorously controlled tests, without a rigorous foundation for the accommodation.”  At the heart of his argument, again, is the matter of time. He sees the granting of extended time as a one-size-fits-all concession The College Board, ACT, and universities make without a specific rationale for the merits of that accommodation in relation to the specific disability in question: “Accommodations must be specific to circumstances, and transparently published for specific disabilities, just like grading rubrics and curves.  It may be convenient for both the universities and the students to indiscriminately agree to simple accommodations such as time extension for a whole host of disabilities in prima facie compliance with the ADA, but this dilutes the integrity of the academic process without providing a definable benefit, either to those students who are disabled, or to those who are not.” Trachtenberg’s premise is that time matters: he values some speeded component of his tests, and so accommodating that component—unless rigorously justified—could modify the validity of his exams. Validity.  Trachtenberg’s line of reasoning is taken to a logical extreme by Bruce Pardy of Queen’s University Faculty of Law in his August 2016 Education and Law Journal article “Head Starts and Extra Time: Academic Accommodation on Post-Secondary Exams and Assignments for Cognitive and Mental Disabilities.” Pardy argues [...]

By |2017-11-03T06:08:19+00:00November 3, 2017|ACT SP, SAT SP, School Programs, Special|1 Comment
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