They said that the new online tools are meant to be one-stop shopping for information about financial aid, application requirements and more. Students could also use this online platform to interact with top schools, sending inquiries and receiving answers.
The platform would include a so-called “locker” for creative work — essays, videos, drawings — that students would be encouraged to begin filling in the ninth grade, as a reminder that college is on the horizon.
They could share those lockers with mentors. And come application time, they could upload its contents for admissions officers.The goal behind this project is laudable. As a professional with over ten years of experience in test coaching and college admissions counseling, I agree that the current college rat race only intensifies our class divisions. And yes -- though I may be conservative in temperament, I think the worsening bifurcation between the richest and the rest is a real problem that requires a serious, thoughtful response. I'm skeptical, however, that this Coalition for Access, Affordability, & Success is going to succeed in its endeavor. While offering free resources to demystify admissions requirements seems like a good idea, the drift away from standardization that the "locker" represents will probably only make things worse.
Granted, my entire career is living proof that a bubble test like the SAT is coachable, as my students routinely see gains of 200 - 300 points after a typical summer intensive. How do my students and I accomplish this? We go back to the beginning and teach foundational skills in mathematics, grammar, and reading comprehension. Whatever topics our students have insufficiently mastered, we seek to fill in, even if that means going back to middle school and relearning fractions and decimals. It is in fact a tremendous lie to claim that you can get by on the SAT through strategies and "tricks" alone; in reality, only students who have real, translatable academic skills across the college-prep curriculum can succeed. True: Statistical research reveals that the SAT is an imperfect measure of college readiness that does correlate with economic status. But for a test students take on a single Saturday morning, it is remarkably valid, and its expectations are both objective and transparent.
Essays, portfolios, resumes, and other features of the more highly favored "holistic" admissions process, on the other hand, are incredibly subjective. And trust me: The more subjective a requirement is, the more easily it can be gamed by ambitious parents with a lot of money to spend. A student who attends a full course of SAT prep with me is still, ultimately, on his own when the day of the test arrives; I can't take the test for him or whisper sweet mathematical formulae in his ear. A student who comes to me for help with the Common Application Essay, meanwhile, has access to my advice and my editor's pen from the outline all the way to the final draft. I don't write the essay for him, mind, but the product that results doesn't really reflect the student's native writing talent; it is, instead, an amalgam of his talent and mine. In short? This latter assessment turns out to be more coachable than our hated standardized tests.
Alas, I don't think you can remove coaching effects completely without resorting to unacceptable coercion. Parents have an inalienable right to use whatever resources are at their disposal to prepare their kids for the college admissions process and beyond. I do think, though, that increasing standardization rather than decreasing it will help minimize the impact of family wealth. In particular, it may be wise for schools to do the following:
- Lean even more on objective assessments that the students must take alone in a proctored testing center. Schools should even do the student essays this way in order to get a real sense of each student's academic writing skills.
- Use essay prompts that don't ask personal questions. Today's essays solicit information about students' interests, hobbies, and experiences and consequently favor privileged, extroverted students whose parents can shuttle them to a wealth of enriching activities. Get rid of them and use more academically-oriented prompts instead. You could, for example, ask a student to respond to a reading selection or answer a long-form math or science question.
- Follow the Khan Academy example and use endowment money to open up more Massive Open Online Courses that striving students can take free of charge to supplement local curricula that may be lacking in advanced placement opportunities. Said platforms can be used for test prep services as well.
- Set benchmarks for admission that are binding and publicly available for review. If more students meet the benchmarks than there are seats, hold a lottery.