Thursday, October 15, 2015

21st Century PSAT

Yesterday was National Support David Coleman's Cash Flow Day, otherwise known as the day that high school juniors across the nation give up a treasure trove of personal information in exchange for the opportunity to take a standardized test that is, if not actually meaningful or useful, at least a venerable tradition.

The P, as I repeatedly remind my highly stressed 11th grade students, stands for "practice." It is, for most of us, the ultimate no stakes test. If a student is perched at the very tippy top of Score Mountain, she will have a shot at a National Merit Scholarship, a scholarship program that functions much like the scholarships attached to beauty pageants-- as a sort of protective fig leaf of uplifting nobility for an otherwise mercenary enterprise. And if you have the misfortune to teach at a school that thinks there's something useful to learn from PSAT-ing every single student, then, well, it sucks to be you.

But for the rest of us, the PSAT means bupkus. Less than bupkus. Just bup.

The College Board (now helmed by Common Core auteur Davic Coleman) has been trying hard to reverse this trend by, among other things, creating more baby PSAT's-- PPPSATs-- to push the market all the way down to eighth grade. Coleman has also worked to position the SAT as an engine for fixing inequality in America, a narrative that has, if nothing else, convinced the USED to shovel a bunch of money in the College Board's direction. Oh-- and because corporate synergy should always be leveraged to foster dynamic growth, the new PSAT is also a marketing tool for AP coursework.

Note too that the PSAT begins with a 45-minute session of having students volunteer their personal information, a process that makes the College Board one of the leading vendors of student information (the subject of periodic unsuccessful lawsuits).

All of these upgrades are part of the College Board's entry into the 21st century. But their relationship with some aspects of 21st century technology are more complicated. Hence this tweet yesterday:

And boy, you would think that the combination of signing the PSAT Secrecy Pledge and this hip tweet referencing a movie that came out when PSAT takers were in First Grade-- you'd just think that would do it.

Nevertheless, #PSAT was trending on Twitter, not because of students tweeting, "My, but that was an educationally valuable experience," but because they were cranking out test-based memes. Heck, the College Board somehow failed to lock down PSAT2015 as a handle, and that account has over 10,300 followers and a wealth of test-mocking memery.

Via twitter I know that the test covered Frederick Douglass's thoughts about the 4th of July, cookies, Herminia the poetess, dinosaurs, and wolves vs. dogs. Many enterprising folks tracked down the source material for the reading passages, leading to this interesting exchange:

Probably nothing. I'm sure the College Board wouldn't violate a copyright.

Other fun tweets about the PSAT:

If nothing else, the PSAT pumped energy into the use of smartphones and twitter yesterday. But if they're going to join the new century, they'll need to realize that their privacy pledge is stupid and they had better get used to operating in a transparent world. And this is just the PSAT, a test which everyone takes essentially on the same day. Imagine what the internet does to the SAT, given on many separate dates.

Of course, we could just recognize that the kind of test that is seriously damaged by this complete lack of security is a lousy test. But that would hurt test manufacturers bottom line. Living in the 21st century is expensive. Let's hope that Coleman can figure out how to turn a profit and still stay classy.


  1. Mr. Greene you are a very funny man.

  2. Remember the cow stickers in 2013? Whomever College Board has in charge of reaching "the youngsters" with marketing is being paid WAY too well!

  3. Very funny. Any insights on this AccuPlacer stuff that takes at least 5-6 kids out of my classes every day?

  4. While taking the sample 4th grade PAARC reading test, I was surprised to see a story my sister had written and published in Highlights as one of the passages. She was even more surprised when I told her!