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Education Math

MIT's SAT Math Error 280

Posted by Zonk
from the maybe-they-should-get-a-college-graduate-to-check-it dept.
theodp writes "The Wall Street Journal reports that for years now, MIT wasn't properly calculating the average freshmen SAT scores (reg.) used to determine U.S. News & World Report's influential annual rankings. In response to an inquiry made by The Tech regarding the school's recent drop in the rankings, MIT revealed that in past years it had excluded the test scores of foreign students as well as those who fared better on the ACT than the SAT, both violations of the U.S. News rules. MIT's reported first-quartile SAT verbal and math scores for the 2006 incoming class totaled 1380, a drop of 50 points from 2005."
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MIT's SAT Math Error

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  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:17AM (#20724703) Homepage Journal
    and a minor in dupe detection ;-)
  • 1220 in 1989 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Saint Stephen (19450) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:18AM (#20724709) Homepage Journal
    You can't compare any scores because it's all been rebased to be meaningless.

    Back then, a 1400 really meant something, and a "perfect" score was a one or two person thing.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:20AM (#20724727)
      Back then, a 1400 really meant something, and a "perfect" score was a one or two person thing.

      What it really meant was they were sitting at the same table!
    • by jbreckman (917963)
      I was under the impression that SAT scores were normalized, so the distribution was the same between years. Am I wrong? Anyone have any sources?
      • Re:1220 in 1989 (Score:5, Informative)

        by JoelKatz (46478) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:38AM (#20724825)
        That's correct, the scores are normalized so that the distributions are the same. This means you *can't* compare scores across years. If you did, you would find that, amazingly, the distributions were the same. But have the students stayed the same? Nope. Have the questions stayed the same? No again.

        If you google around, you'll see articles about how "national SAT scores fell for the second year in a row" or some nonsense like that. There are ways you can sensibly compare SAT scores across years, but you cannot compare averages over a significant fraction of the testing pool.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by nitroamos (261075)
          Well, I'm sure the normalization is at the national level, so there is meaning for some level of locality to say that it's scores have dropped.
        • by irtza (893217)
          normalization is not done on an annual basis. It is done per pool of selected questions and covers multiple testing sessions, so over a couple of years there can be a fall in the average score though that would get corrected out once they redo the grading - at least that's my understanding. The other thing is that they can look at the raw score and see a trend in that as well - well at least the board that creates the test can.
        • wrong. (Score:3, Informative)

          That's correct, the scores are normalized so that the distributions are the same. This means you *can't* compare scores across years. If you did, you would find that, amazingly, the distributions were the same. But have the students stayed the same? Nope. Have the questions stayed the same? No again.

          You are wrong. Each SAT has a section that doesnt count for that year's grading but is for future tests. So lets say I take the SAT and get a 1400, and then on the experimental section I get 80% of the questions right. Well, this experimental section will be used next year as part of the test, and a correlation will be done where 80% correct = 1400.

          So it is not normalized based on the year you take it. It is correlated to the kids who took it last year, and what score they got. Of course, its a much more c

      • Re:1220 in 1989 (Score:5, Informative)

        by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:55AM (#20725251) Homepage

        I was under the impression that SAT scores were normalized, so the distribution was the same between years. Am I wrong? Anyone have any sources?


        Yes and no, one problem is that now they normalize the test TOO often, due to the fact that students weren't scoring well (average SAT score fell to about 930-950 or so by the early 1990s). They added essays and some other stuff which arguably added more subjectivity to the grading, and they did a BIG recalibration in 1994 that basically gave everyone an extra hundred points (don't they allow calculators now, too?). So any test scores from 1994 or later are considered meaningless as anything other than an indication of how you did on the SAT compared to the other students that exact same year.

        Before 1994, the SAT correlated closely with IQ and could generally be compared (roughly) across years because it hadn't changed much in decades (precisely the complaint that led it to being redesigned). For example, MENSA doesn't accept [mensa.org] SAT scores after 1994 as indication of intelligence.
    • by gatzke (2977)

      I think they added 100 points to the average in the mid 90s when they were starting to ramp up online testing.

      Back then, I knew a guy that made a 800 verbal and he got his picture in the local paper (500k population town).

      1500+ is commonplace now.

      I had people make fun of me at Georgia Tech because I only had a 780 Math. What a bunch of tools...

  • Why should the SAT scores of Foreign students count at all?

    I ask because I know several people who graduated Jamaican high schools then enrolled in American universities, including MIT (There is a rumour going around that MIT is a good school).

    Thing is many of those Jamaicans never did SAT at all. They either did the CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) exams or the British "O" Level and "A" Level exams.

    Many US Universities (Including MIT) are happy with grades from those exams. So happy that you are not ask
    • by Kadin2048 (468275) *
      Many US Universities (Including MIT) are happy with grades from those exams. So happy that you are not asked to pay school fees if you can run or jump.

      I don't know what MIT is doing, and I'm not contradicting you about wherever you went, but I don't think that's typical. At least at my alma mater, they don't care where you came from, but they want to see some sort of standardized test score. In fact, they tend to rely on them more heavily for foreign students, who typically don't get an opportunity to inter
      • by Forge (2456)
        Sorry I wasn't clear. By "not have to pay" I was talking about sport related scholarships not financial aid. Those scholarships are the prime motivator for Jamaican High school athletes at the Pen relays. That's why you see results like this [pennathletics.com]. Short version top 6 places in the 4x100 relay for high school boys. Winning time 39.96

        Some US schools think an exam which works for 15 of America's weaker allies [caricom.org] is standard enough.

      • by arivanov (12034)
        I will second that.

        While I do not know the state of US educational system now, 20 years ago it was indeed as you say - cash on the barrel. At best you had the university waving part of the tuition fee. Everything else - dormitory fees, food, textbooks, etc you had to fend for yourself. This amounted on the average to anything between 5 and 10 times the average annual income in more than half of the world (I think it still does).

        As a result the only two ways of getting a US education for a foreigner was eith
    • So happy that you are not asked to pay school fees if you can run or jump.

      MIT doesn't offer athletic scholarships. Academic yes, athletic no. (It's a condition of their participation in NCAA Division III.)
      • by Forge (2456)
        Probably true. The people I know who went to MIT got in on academic scholarships. It's a LOT harder to qualify for those and the difficulty goes up when dealing with top end schools

        Our economy sucks (GDP per Capita ~$4,700 US, compared to $43,500 for USA) so almost nobody can actually afford MIT.
    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      Many US Universities (Including MIT) are happy with grades from those exams. So happy that you are not asked to pay school fees if you can run or jump.

      I'm pretty sure that MIT doesn't give sports scholarships.
      • by sethstorm (512897) *

        I'm pretty sure that MIT doesn't give sports scholarships.
        With enough money there is a way.
    • Why should the SAT scores of Foreign students count at all?

      That's not the question at hand. Rather, if everyone else is reporting them, why should MIT be exempt?

      -Bill
      • by Forge (2456)
        True.

        That happens. Sometimes you look at a disparity and ask "why doesn't the misfit follow suite" Other times you ask "Why doesn't everyone else follow the misfit."
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MoonBuggy (611105)
      I don't know how recent a development it is, but MIT does require foreign students to take the SAT or ACT. I had my GCSE (they don't do O Levels anymore) and A Level grades but I still had to make arrangements to do the American tests for my application. Interestingly high A Level grades in Maths and Physics can be used to skip certain parts of the first year's work, but not in place of the SAT/ACT for applications.
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:23AM (#20724745) Homepage
    Yet another hilarious prank, no doubt. I wonder how many kids scored 1337?

    Just watch out when one of them attains the CEO position at your company.

    "Hey, you know what would be a really hilarious number for our stock prices to hit?"

    Uh oh.
  • Oops! (Score:2, Interesting)

    Sucks for them I guess. I really don't think that the ACT/SAT scores should be used by colleges or universities. Instead, the IQ test score should be used. The ACT/SAT tells that you know stuff. The IQ test shows your ability to figure things out.

    Perhaps from a math standpoint, the ACT and SAT could be useful. But the rest of the stuff in the tests... useless.
    • by paitre (32242)
      The SAT actually used to be an equivalence to the IQ test - prior to the mid-1990's 'normalization' where the scores now basically mean bunk.
    • by buswolley (591500)
      I administer IQ tests daily. Let me tell you. Their methodologies do not impress me. Half of the WASI IQ test is simply a vocabulary test. The other half does require problem solving though..
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NMerriam (15122)

        Half of the WASI IQ test is simply a vocabulary test.

        I think you'll find that it isn't a vocabulary test, it's a test of whether you can on-the-fly generalize and intuit how to reapply pieces of language (after all, IQ tests are basically designed to test your ability to see patterns and apply them).

        Sure, if you don't know anything about the English language, you'll be screwed, but if you don't know anything about geometry you'll be screwed just the same. You could TRY to memorize the whole dictionary, or

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by stdarg (456557)
          You don't need to memorize the whole dictionary, though. Haven't you seen those "Top 500" lists that contains the 500 most-missed words? That combined with an otherwise average vocabulary is pretty much enough.

          The reason geometry is better is that you don't need to memorize several thousand or even several hundred rules. You probably need less than 50 to do well in high-school level geometry. After 50 it's just applying them in the right sequence. The reason that's acceptable in the US is that in most state
    • Re:Oops! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Brian Gordon (987471) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:41AM (#20724855)
      Your intelligence doesn't determine how ready you are for school. I have a high IQ but I score badly because other people put more work into school than I do.
      • by buswolley (591500)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ [wikipedia.org]

        Nope, IQ is meant to predict educational ability and achievement.

        • by Rakishi (759894)
          It predicts average or possible education achievement, by college you have already met or not met the "possible" part of that. If you're lazy then you will do worse even if you have a good IQ. You have better potential but actual achievement is determined by more than just potential. Likewise it only measures one part of your potential and is far from a comprehensive measure (for example creativity is not measured).

          By the time you enter college it doesn't matter how good you inherently are but how good you
    • by drgonzo59 (747139)
      Until Kaplan will offer courses on how to score well on IQ tests and then all it will mean is how much did that student study solving IQ test problems. In other words all standardized tests show is how well can that student take a standardized test, which is great is they plan to major and find employment in Advanced Standardized Test Taking Business, because the real world is a not standardized test.

      I have a great problem with countless standardized tests of the 'no child left behind' kind. All kids are

      • Re:Oops! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rakishi (759894) on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:01AM (#20724963)
        US colleges use a whole lot more than the SATs to determined admission, essays and extra-curriculars and grades and so on. In some ways the fact that you can study for the SAT does make it a better measure, work ethics and the ability to study are important for life and college.

        Actually the US college system relies amazingly little on standardized tests in comparison to many other nations. In many countries there is a set of tests which pretty much are the only measure and the only chance you get. If you do badly or the computer system fucks up you're screwed.
        • by thealsir (927362)
          Another reason is the paying of much grando money to get into college in the first place. Students are a lucrative income stream in the US; hence, it's better to lower the entry bar a little bit and then use the first year of school as the _real_ admission test.
        • In many countries there is a set of tests which pretty much are the only measure and the only chance you get. If you do badly or the computer system fucks up you're screwed.
          And you actually think that's a good thing? I don't want to live in your degenerate nation.
          • by Rakishi (759894)
            Does it sound like I think thats a good system?

            Anyway, I was mostly just stating a fact and yes I do know someone who got fucked over by a computer glitch.

            In the US system you do lose some stability (you can't ever be sure that X will mean you get into Y) but I do think the flexibility is by far worth it. Not that there isn't some flexibility in other countries but it seems a lot more contained and limited. Of course I'm biased since I grew up (mostly) in the US and personally I'd be eaten alive by a system
            • by SSpade (549608)
              It's hard to fake competence. It's easy to fake all the other stuff. People who aren't actually terribly good, but who come from families that are good at doing or faking up all the other "well rounded personality stuff" hate pure standardised tests.

              People who do wonderfully in high school, because of a tightly constrained environment and a pushy family, but who aren't any good at problem-solving on their own, or working without a fixed timetable, or who just don't have the diversity of interests and social
        • by dbIII (701233)
          Correct me if I'm wrong - but isn't the US system such that you have a remedial first year to cover high school topics before you choose which degree to do?
          • by fotbr (855184)
            That depends on the school. Most have remedial classes that are more or less high school level, usually to make up for less-than good school districts, but most still require you to declare a major at admission. That is changing, and from the (limited) number of schools I looked at, visited, researched, attended, and considered for grad school, the lead towards allowing "undecided" or "general studies" students is coming from the schools with larger and/or more famous athletics departments. I will not sp
    • by glwtta (532858)
      The IQ test shows your ability to figure things out.

      The IQ test can help spot developmental problems in children - that's what it was designed to do, and that's the only thing it's good at.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:53AM (#20724917)
    MIT's reported first-quartile SAT verbal and math scores for the 2006 incoming class totaled 1380, a drop of 50 points from 2005.


    I don't normally put a lot of stock in standardized test scores, but with a total score of 1380 for an entire class, I can see how that might be a problem.

  • At first I just chuckled at this, but then I thought about 5-6 years ago when I was applying to undergrad. If I saw that MIT's average SAT score was 1380, I would have applied because that is right around where I scored. If I saw that MIT's average SAT score was 1430, I wouldn't have applied (and I didn't).

    There were hotter girls at my college anyway.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Oh, I dunno. I used to go drinking with the MIT women's rugby team. They were fun to drink with, since we shared the same taste in women.
  • Nobody Should Care (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Evets (629327) * on Monday September 24, 2007 @02:18AM (#20725375) Homepage Journal
    MIT is a prestigious institution. Does anybody really decide between Universities based on a US News rating?

    Scoring high may or may not help you get into the right school. The right school will make a difference for pretty much your first job. After that, if people are even mentioning your education other than in passing during an interview, you've already lost.

    I know very few people who value educational qualifications over proven experience. Of course, the tech world is a bit different than the rest of the business world, but this is slashdot.
    • by Bozdune (68800)
      Right, nobody should care.

      When I went to MIT back before most of you were zygotes, the admissions formula had already become a carefully-tuned equation (what else would you expect?). For example, high schools in the US were given a quality score, and your SAT score was normalized by your high school's score. So, if you got a 1300 from some one-room schoolhouse in West Virginia, that was considered as good as a 1600 from Weston High School (which routinely turned out 1600's, and was widely recognized as an
  • The number of people saying "OMG? MIT has a mean of 1380?!" somewhat disturbs me. Apparently, 25% of people at MIT have an SAT of 1380 or lower. That's all this means. To be fair, though, when comparing top schools it's most meaningful to look at the bottom quartile. After all, we know they all have lots of smart kids; the question is, how many not-so-smart kids do they have? Whatever, this only tarnishes the name of whoever made the mistake, not the school itself.
  • Here I always thought MIT was full of really smart kids, and a relatively normal person like me could never get in. I always sorta figured MIT only took people with crazy-high SAT scores, like 1500 or more. But 1380, that's only sixty points higher than _my_ score, when I took it in 1993, and if that's the _average_... I'm probably within the range of what they accept, not even taking into account the College Board's "recentering" of the scale in '95. Not to mention, I only took the thing once and might
  • by pbooktebo (699003) on Monday September 24, 2007 @08:30AM (#20727281)
    The first thing I note is that, for an institution as brilliant as MIT to make an error that increases their ranking seems a bit suspicious. Despite the fact that many readers here see little or no purpose to these rankings, they are horribly influential, and the difference reported is substantial. MIT is good enough to be great without cheating.

    The second point is that many schools are very careful when examining foriegn test scores because of cheating supported by the government. It is well-known that many countries actively encourage cheating (which helps the students get grants or acceptance). The school where I was had a watch list and would ignore scores outright from many countries. Makes me wonder whether they still reported these suspect high scores as part of their average (I expect they did).

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