Part 5—The fruit of a slacker elite: The modern “press corps” is best understood as an under-skilled slacker elite.
Consider reaction within the Washington Post to last week’s announcement that the SAT will be changed.
Last Saturday, Alexandra Petri debuted the scripted standard reactions from within the Post.
PetrI is Harvard class of 2010. (We misstated the year in yesterday’s post, which we have corrected.) As such, she’s barely 25.
But Petri has learned to mock her lessers in the way approved by her owners. She has also learned to leap to standard conclusions:
PETRI (3/ 8/14): The SAT is reverting to a 1600-point scale and making the essay portion of the test optional. The vocabulary words and math sections are changing and the guessing penalty (where you were penalized for getting a question wrong instead of not answering it) has been eliminated.Petri stated the two conclusions which would be standard inside the Post. The SAT is being made easier. This adjustment is being made because today’s kids are so dumb.
"What?" you may well say. "But the SAT just changed to include that essay." Ah, but then its rival, the ACT, started to take over the SAT's market share. The College Board, which administers the SAT, insists that the changes will make the test do a better job of reflecting what students learn.
In my experience, "more reflective of what students learn in high school" always is a nicer way of saying "easier." How could it not be? Look at what people are actually learning. Less and less, every day. Employers, when asked if college students strike them as at all ready for the workforce, have stopped responding and just emit a low chuckle, gazing off into the distance.
Employers simply emit a low chuckle when asked about today’s kids! Petri, blessed with every advantage, is skilled at kicking straight down.
Van we talk? In its voluminous reporting on the SAT’s ch-ch-ch-changes, the Washington Post did not report that the test is being made easier. Nor is it clear what that claim would even mean in the case of such a test.
The SAT exists for one purpose—to find distinctions among zillions of students from 50 states and other regions. If the SAT remade itself so everyone was getting high scores, it would have eliminated its reason for being (in the French, its raison d’etre).
Why would the College Board make the test “easier?” With an instrument like the SAT, what would that claim even mean?
We doubt that Petri could answer such questions, but she seemed to have absorbed the Standard Story ruling her org. One day later, Kathleen Parker presented a column which led with the same two claims.
Parker is 62, not 25. By the standards of the guild, she is witty, sane and intelligent.
But this is a deeply unskilled elite. Judged by the standards applied to teens, this is failing work:
PARKER (3/9/14): When the going gets tough, well, why not just make the going easier?That work is full of claims and insinuations, none of which Parker attempts to support in recognizable ways.
This seems to be the conclusion of the College Board, which administers the dreaded SAT college entrance exam. Recently announced “improvements” to the test are designed, say board officials, to better gauge what students study and learn in high school. Shouldn’t take too long.
Thus, the new SAT will take less time and consist of multiple-choice questions as follows: (a) yes; (b) no; (c) maybe; (d) none of the above.
Fine. Perhaps I exaggerate (pardon the multiple syllables) just a tad. But one does fear that such tweaking is really a stab at greater market share—many students have turned from the SAT to ACT—and an adjustment to the fact that student scores have been falling.
Owing to what, one wonders? Surely not the gradual degradation of pre-college education.
By making the test more “accessible,” board officials theorize, more students will be able to attend college, where, presumably, they will flourish. The test no longer will include fancy words, otherwise known as a rich vocabulary, or require a timed essay. The math section will be adapted so that people who aren’t so good at math, including but not limited to future journalists, can pretend they are.
Like the youthful Petri, Parker snarks about the abject stupidity of these kids today—except Parker does so repeatedly. She implies, but doesn’t state, that the nation has been experiencing “the gradual degradation of pre-college education.”
She begins with the statement that the SAT “seems to be” getting made “easier.” By the last paragraph we have posted, she is directly asserting that the SAT has been changed to accommodate kids who don’t know much.
She directly describes what the College Board is “theorizing” as it makes these changes. But at no point does Parker make any attempt to say how she knows the various things she asserts.
Please note: Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning “journalist,” not a high school senior.
We’ll return to Parker’s column for an especially gruesome point. For now, let’s visit the editorial which sat on the opposite page from Parker in Sunday’s Washington Post.
Completing the rule of three, the editors reached the same basic judgment about the changes to the SAT. They said the College Board is making the SAT easier, although they managed to avoid insulting high school students.
Well, they didn’t quite say that! They said the College Board “appears” to be making the SAT easier:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (3/9/14): It’s the news that will launch a thousand test-preparation courses: The College Board is once again altering the SAT, the much-criticized college admissions exam that has struggled to defend its approach to student assessment. The SAT’s writers appear to be doing two things: changing what it tests; and making it easier. There’s reason for the former, and danger in the latter.The College Board appears to be making the SAT easier, the editors said. But is the College Board doing that? The editors never justified that statement. They just continued telling readers how the changes “sound:”
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: The exam will no longer expect students to know difficult, lesser-used vocabulary words. Advanced mathematical concepts will disappear from the exam, and it sounds as though some math sections will force students to do more raw computation in their heads rather than on calculators. The penalty for random guessing will also go.Do these editors gather facts before opining on the way something “sounds” and “appears?” In a seven-paragraph piece, they fell back on this dodge four times, much as a sophomore might do.
It sounds as though students could conceivably get a perfect score on the new exam and yet struggle to fully comprehend some of the articles in this newspaper. Colleges should want to know if their would-be English majors are conversant in words more challenging than “synthesis,” or that their scores reflect more than lucky bubble guesses, now that wrong answers carry no penalty.
No standardized test will be close to perfect. But a better approach would include a rigorous exam, or set of exams, linked tightly to the content and skills students claim to have learned, a system more akin to the Advanced Placement program than to the old SAT. From the sound of it, the new SAT won’t be that.
In two of these instances, they lamented the end of the “guessing penalty” even as they kept guessing themselves! They never explained why their own paper never reported that the SAT is being made easier.
Earth to editors: the elimination of “difficult, lesser-used vocabulary words” doesn’t necessarily mean that a test is being made easier, whatever that claim would even mean in the case of a test like this.
Will “advanced mathematical concepts disappear from the exam?” We don’t know, but the Post’s Nick Anderson didn’t report that. Presumably, that’s how it sounded!
This editorial assumes major facts not in evidence and makes logical leaps. But then, consider this passage from Parker’s defiantly know-nothing column:
PARKER (continuing directly from above): These tweaks are a shame inasmuch as educators lose measures that provided critical information. The essay, for instance, wasn’t a call to Emersonian excellence but was a way of determining whether a student can compose a coherent sentence—you know: subject, verb, all that stuff—not to mention whether one can think. If a person can’t write a series of sentences to express a cogent thought, does that person really qualify for a college education? For what purpose?Given the caliber of her own column, Parker should perhaps avoid questions about high school students’ ability to reason.
The most entertaining test area—the analogy—was eliminated in 2005. Again, too hard?
Note the passage we’ve highlighted. It has been nine years since the analogy questions were dropped. But Parker is still restricting herself to questions and insinuations concerning why this was done.
In those nine years, has Parker actually asked anyone why those questions were dropped? Has she made any attempt to fact-check her knee-jerk reactions?
Judged by normal academic standards, the Post published a lot of failing work this weekend. But this is very typical work from the slacker elite we agree to describe as a press corps.
How low are the standards at the Post, where Petri and Parker mock high school students so dumbly? Consider the column which appeared directly above Parker’s in Sunday’s hard-copy Post.
The column was written by a politician, not by a Post employee. But the piece was accepted for publication by an editor at the Post, and its work was grossly incompetent, in a way which has been standardized by the incompetent Post.
David Catania, who is running for mayor, is a member of the D.C. Council. He’s chairman of the council’s education committee.
We have no doubt that Catania cares a great deal about the District’s schools. But he seems to lack the most basic skills for reading and understanding the District’s test scores:
CATANIA (3/9/14): There is substantial evidence that the recent improvements [in D.C. test scores] are rooted, at least in part, in demographic shifts in our schools.Everything said there can be defended as technically accurate. But Catania’s work there is grossly incompetent, in a way which has been popularized by the Washington Post.
Between 2007 and 2013, the share of D.C. fourth-graders who are African American fell from 83 percent to 67 percent. Meanwhile, the share of white students more than doubled, from 6 percent to 13 percent. Similar shifts occurred on the eighth-grade level. It is well established that socioeconomic status and student achievement are correlated. Because socioeconomic status often tracks with race in our city, this demographic shift matters in understanding overall results.
In support of his position, Graham pointed to data from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which measures fourth- and eighth-graders' aptitude in reading and math. Those data also show that African American fourth-graders in the District scored, on average, 68 points lower in reading and 59 points lower in math than their white classmates. It is significant that the average-scale score for reading remained unchanged between 2007 and 2013 for African American fourth-graders, at 192. Among African American and white eighth-graders in the District, there was a 64-point difference in average reading scores and a 62-point difference in average math scores. These are the largest achievement gaps in the nation. And in most cases, they are growing, not shrinking.
The second statement we have highlighted is grossly misleading. If we consider all black kids in all D.C. schools—traditional public schools plus public charters—the actual scores for the years in question look like this:
Average reading score, Grade 4 NAEPThat’s a gain of 5.35 points in six years. On its face, that’s a healthy gain. See our earlier post.
Black students, all DC schools
This is what the scores look like if we talk about low-income black kids:
Average reading score, Grade 4 NAEPThe score gain there is 6.81 points. Please note: those are the scores of low-income black kids only. Those scores have nothing to do with the influx of white students which led Catania to hurl a bit of gorilla dust.
Low-income black students, all DC schools
To appearances, Catania doesn’t know how to access these test scores for D.C.’s black kids. But neither does the Washington Post! Earlier this month, one of the Post’s education reporters made the same bungled claim about Grade 4 reading.
Again, see our earlier post.
By the way, everybody understands why D.C. has those large “achievement gaps.” It’s because the District has an extremely affluent, high-SES white student population.
Those very large gaps define our nation’s educational problem. They help define our nation’s brutal racial history. But there’s no mystery about where those gaps come from, unless you’re reading the Washington Post, where no one seems to be able to explain even the most basic points.
Sunday’s Post was a howling mess, a tribute to intellectual dysfunction. But then, our “press corps” is a slacker elite, lacking the most basic skills.
This weekend, you saw Petri and Parker mocking the dumbness of our high school kids, even as they and their editors failed to display the most basic intellectual skills.
Petri and Parker mocked high school kids even as their paper published the latest column misstating the score gains for the District’s black kids. Even as the Post published a “5 Myths” piece concerning the SAT which was spilling with groaners.
Our upper-end press corps is best understood as an under-skilled slacker elite. That said, you’ll read this rather obvious fact in very few places.
Some careerists won’t tell you the truth about their colleagues and potential employers. Many others are so unskilled that they can’t see this obvious truth.
Persistently, they hand you scripts built around poorly-explained tribal disputes. They won’t report the more basic fact:
Our press corps is a slacker elite which lacks even the most basic skills. For the record, we’re not saying that’s how it sounds or appears.
We’re saying that’s what the corps is.
Concerning one pregnant assertion: According to Parker, “student scores have been falling” on the SAT.
Instantly, she suggests that this reflects, or may reflect, “the gradual degradation of pre-college education.”
Did Parker actually assert that such a degradation is happening? Not exactly! Her claim was fuzzy, unclear, a mere insinuation.
That said, let’s ask an obvious question:
Why are SAT scores falling, if indeed they are? Is it because our schools are being degraded? Or is it because a wider range of students are taking the test?
Do you think Parker has any idea? Do you see the slightest sign that she actually tried to find out?