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The Yearly, New SAT Scores Are In

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It’s enough to strike dread into the hearts of high school Juniors everywhere. Just three letters: SAT.

The College Board, which runs the SAT, just announced the results for the past year’s test. And The Atlantic says they don’t look good. Last year’s test takers, on average, did not earn a score of 1550, and are therefore not deemed “college ready.”

And minorities are still lagging behind white students in SAT scores, but are on the (slight) rise (check out that earlier Atlantic article link). According to the NYTimes, high-scoring low-income students, through the generosity of the SAT, will receive packets of information from high-ranking schools and have application fees waived for six schools. Which is kinda cool, but if the kids can’t afford the application fees, then they probably can’t afford the tuition. I hope some scholarship information is also sent to them.

By the way, the College Board also administers AP tests. They like to tie students who’ve taken AP courses to higher SAT scores (they don’t mention that college-bound kids are more likely to take AP or IB in the first place). Some might say that the College Board is pushing for AP courses for minorities, to increase scores, of course, not to give College Board more money.

How are SATs scored anyway? Students take the three-section, timed test and obtain a raw score. That raw score is then compiled with all other raw scores across the country and is (magically?) assigned a scaled score. This scaled score is what goes into a lot of students’ college applications. But wait… that means that students’ scores depend on who else takes the test (i.e., every other highly-capable, probably college-bound kid). You’re ranking the highly-capable against the highly-capable. And, by the way, 2400 isn’t always a perfect score… it’s just scaled that way (not to denigrate anyone with a “perfect” 2400; it’s still quite the feat). Wikipedia has a nice section on all of the scoring changes over the years (check out the “re-centering” controversy in 1995).

And I haven’t mentioned the ACT, but they’re pretty much in the same boat of scaling scores. It used to be that Midwestern schools required ACTs and other schools required SATs. Lately, students can choose which test to take, and there’s even a lot of advice on which might give you a higher score.

Wait… so the scores are scaled based on what they think the average kid should get? And then there’s shock that the average score isn’t increasing? Yearly increasing scores would mean either kids are expected to be learning more and more, or the test is easier and easier to study for. SAT prep courses are all over the country, even in Khan Academy. But a lot of test prep places are not free, which means you need some money. And with a lot of budget-tightening across the nation, it isn’t always an option to pay for test prep / higher scores.

Maybe there’s hope! There is a new movement in colleges to not ask for SAT or ACT scores. Why? There’s little to no correlation between these standardized tests and success in college. In place of the test scores, these schools often put more emphasis on essays or a portfolio… things that showcase the student’s skills rather than their tests.

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Hypothetical Water Issues

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There’s a issue of making curriculum, especially in science and math classes, relevant to students. There’s also the cross-discipline thing that’s so popular right now (which shouldn’t have to be a thing, but it is). But how to include, say, algebra problems in history class or history problems in algebra class, without being too token-ish about it?

Maybe you don’t.

Make it up instead. This is the whole premise behind a lot of Dan Meyer‘s math and teaching blog, especially his “What Can You Do With This?” series. How do you get students to “buy into” the lesson, rather than just complete the problems? Vi Hart is kind of this idea in practice, noticing patterns and expounding on them.

What can I do with something ubiquitous, like water?

Dr. Tyson says that there are more molecules in a cup of water than cups of water in the Earth’s oceans. Oh yes, the calculations work out (and are a good conversion problem for chemistry students). But that lasts about… 15-20 minutes at most. And while an amazingly cool factoid, isn’t very tangible (and therefore, not very memorable) to most people.

NBC’s coverage of the summer Olympics has a piece on how competitive swimming pools are engineered. Also cool. Not super science-heavy, but things I hadn’t thought about before, especially in silencing waves to promote speed. What other sports need information on waves? How do noise-canceling headphones work? Could you put wave-canceling things on boats to make for faster sailing? (P.S., the segment on para-Olympic engineering is fascinating!)

Maybe it doesn’t have to be entirely realistic. Bring out the curiosity. xkcd‘s what-if on making a rainstorm into a single drop of water.

Hurricanes are gigantic forces of nature, but much of how they move depends on physics of large objects, especially momentum and inertia. So, mass is a big question. Just how much does a hurricane weigh?, via Robert Krulwich on NPR.

Taking Movies at Face Value

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Why does science always have to be so serious?

Oh wait, it doesn’t! You could even enjoy it! So says Dr. Tyson on NPR, as he goes through the summer’s blockbusters.

The Intuitor Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics page has always been, at least in title, a little militant for me. Granted, they do not rate the movies for acting or storyline, but sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and enjoy the ride and ignore the stuff claiming to be science or engineering feats. That being said, I had to be restrained when in G.I.Joe, when a giant ice-base is blown to pieces and sunk… I mean, sinking ice! Aaaaaugh!

The reason it bothers me isn’t that it’s weird or too far over the top. The rest of the movie involves, among other things, super-duper military groups, mechanized suits of armor to enhance soldiers’ skills, all kinds of technological gadgets and gear, and so on. What bothers me is that it’s just wrong. Ice doesn’t sink on this planet, at least, not in the ocean. It just doesn’t. Density will pwn you every time.

If you’re going for scientific accuracy (or plausibility), go for it, but don’t leave out the details. Otherwise, Dr. Tyson will go after your slackness!