A Mediocracy in 4.0: Discounting College Acceptance Aptitude Testing is a Grave Error
“The College Board aims to start a national crusade for college access with a revamp of its SAT admission test to debut in 2016. But the nonprofit organization faces a major hurdle in its quest: Use of the SAT has shrunk in huge swaths of the country since the test’s last makeover nine years ago. In 29 states, a Washington Post analysis found, there were fewer SAT test-takers in the high school class of 2013 than there were in the class of 2006. Over seven years, the declines in SAT test-takers exceeded 20 percent in 19 states, including drops of 59 percent in Michigan, 46 percent in Illinois, 37 percent in Ohio and 25 percent in Tennessee.” ¹
~ Nick Anderson, The Washington Post: Education; March 16, 2014
“Never hire an A student unless it is to take exams.”
~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Even as far back as 1997, researchers found that not only does there exist a mismatch between SAT scores and achieved high school GPA’s, indicative of severe levels of grade inflation at the high school level; but moreover, the level of grade inflation appears to be focused more heavily into the most underachieving SAT academic environments.† This renders the entire 4.0 GPA attainment a mockery in deception and procedural gaming; unsuitable as a measure to perform in its ascending role as the sole basis for collegiate acceptances. This malady serves as a sentinel shedding light into the phenomena of academic arrogance and unaccountability, Social Skepticism, as well as why the overall levels of integrity are falling inside the broader realms of American business, economics and politics.
Ideas are Not Welcome in a Utopia
Both the level of employment of SAT tests in college admissions, and as well the score results themselves, are both down again over the last 7 years, continuing an alarming trend of ineffectiveness on the part of US Education. My purpose here is not to hash fully over again, the pro and con arguments of GPA versus SAT employment in the college admissions process, nor the pro and con arguments which can be foisted towards each point of view. An excellent discourse, albeit one introduced by asking the wrong and ill thought out question, can be found here. Be careful however with this link, as the debate presented here revolves around the equivocal term ‘standardized testing,’ conflating 3rd and 5th grade standardized measures with means and methods of college acceptance. Generally I do not trust anyone who purposely confuses ‘all standardized test scores’ as a means of enforcing GPA as the sole criteria basis for college admissions. Neither do I trust anyone who would ask the prejudiced and charged question, begging thusly “Is the Use of Standardized Tests Improving Education in America?” as is prefaced in the linked article. This is an equivocating and loaded question, begging for a process leading to a single non-sequitur political answer to the question at hand. The real question to be asked is “What has been, and what will be, the impact of a shift away from the SAT as an important basis of college admissions acceptance in terms of the quality and preparedness of new professional candidates?” This is the correct question under the scientific method. The question which is asked by one who thinks in terms of ideas, and not in terms of process to arrive at the correct answer.
My purpose here is to relate key examples of where, in my research firms, labs and companies, both in science and engineering, I have observed directly the deleterious and misleading effects of a GPA – focused candidate selection process. One which elicits a growing problem in our culture with dominant, oligarch and compliance oriented institutions. Cartels which no longer stand accountable to your opinion as an American, regarding the ethical nature of their business and social actions. Social Skepticism thrives in a culture of procedural acumen; one which worships GPA, compliance, achievement and following the instructions. Why? Because that is what is necessary in an Orwellian Utopia of correct answers and correct people.
Ideas are unnecessary, indeed not welcome, in a Social Skepticism utopia.
“Anybody paying attention to the course of modern school reform will not be very surprised by this news: Newly released SAT scores show that scores in reading, writing and even math are down over last year and have been declining for years. And critical reading scores are the lowest in 40 years.“ ³
~ Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post: Local; September 14, 2011
From my observation, in the pool of hundreds of scientists and engineers I have hired over the decades (and yes, I have kept a record of every single one of them – their GPA and SAT, their professional evaluations, and their work track record), this trend in focus to procedural acumen is a cause for concern. Concern in terms of corporations’ ability to hire qualified and equipped candidates, and concern with respect of worker ability to spot pathways of integrity versus ones of questionable ethics – in the midst of awesome and intimidating compliance requirements levied by oligarch driven cartels. Right now, in our top 5 growing industries, the answer to these questions of concern is not an encouraging one.
/Education : Teaching : Aptitude/ : The orientation of a learning process or mindset into which an individual is educated, which distinguishes itself through a lower exposure to ideas, in contrast with a high exposure to people, events, facts, methods and memorization. While procedural acumen is important in education, and certainly stands as a key component of an individual success formula inside the attainment of academic achievement, it should not occupy the sole goal domain of an educational system. Indeed, its preeminence stands as a vulnerable Achilles’s heel with respect to industry’s ability to address corruption, bureaucracy, need for vision, leadership, courage and the transcendent nature of discerning integrity versus blind compliance or corruptibility.
“If a man’s thoughts are to have truth and life in them, they must, after all, be his own fundamental thoughts; for these are the only ones that he can fully and wholly understand. . . . a man who thinks for himself can easily be distinguished from the book-philosopher by the very way in which he talks, by his marked earnestness, and the originality, directness, and personal conviction that stamp all his thoughts and expressions. The book-philosopher, on the other hand, lets it be seen that everything he has is second-hand.”
~ Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Thinking for Yourself” (1851)
When One Promotes 4.0 Mediocrity Over Ideas and Intellect in Collegiate Acceptance
“Mistakes grow your brain,” Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford University expressed at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by The Atlantic (see below). She further contends,
“When we give kids the message that mistakes are good, that successful people make mistakes, it can change their entire trajectory,” Boaler said.‡
Psychologist Carol Dweck elaborates on this further as well in her book The New Psychology of Success,
“100 percent is not an ideal score. When kids come home from school and announce that they got everything right on their school work, Dweck advises parents to offer some sympathy: Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to learn.”‡
My Advice to Aspiring Tier I College Entrants
- Don’t participate in Athletics – you might not get in
- Don’t have allergies or ADHD – you might not get in
- Don’t participate in Drama or Music – you might not get in
- Don’t have a medical condition – you might not get in
- Don’t participate in Student Government – you might not get in
- Don’t have parental/home issues – you might not get in
- Don’t have a medical issue – you might not get in
- Don’t fail to kiss ass with ANY instructor – you might not get in
- Don’t work to help any fellow student – you might not get in
- Don’t come from an affluent family – all it takes is one instructor to give you a B
- Don’t be in the wrong political party – all it takes is one instructor to block you
- Don’t be in the wrong religion – all it take is one instructor who does not like that
- Don’t let your parents be in the military – all it takes is one social epistemologist B
- Don’t write a paper saying things academics don’t agree with – you might not get in
- Don’t participate in extracurricular activities of any kind – you might not get in
- Don’t have intestinal, focus, energy, visual or learning style differences – you might not get in
- Don’t waste study time in community activities, charity, social or church work – you might not get in
- Don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend – because you might not get in
- Follow the instructions – because they can hold a B over your head at any time
- Don’t question – because all it takes is one Social Skeptic instructor and you are dead
- Study – because a 4.0 GPA is all that counts
- Cheat – because you Fear the B
- Corrupt our grading processes – otherwise our preferred students might not get in
- Everyone gets an A – teach students all about the ethics of appearances
- Evaluate teachers on their ability to get the right grades to the right people
After all – Colleges want well rounded ethical leaders who can think for themselves – get that 4.0!
I am not of course speaking about the lack of effort entailed in say a 2.9 GPA in high school; rather indeed focusing on the differences between a 3.7 and a 4.0 GPA. The discernment of student effectiveness as a thinker may not readily be ascertained by such a narrow margin of delineation. The factors which contribute to earning a 4.0 versus a 3.7 might not constitute issues of diligence, as much as we like to pretend such. As you can observe here in the graphic on the right, citing the admissions habits of one of my favorite institutions, Stanford University, an extreme bias towards GPA is now exercised in the selection process. I would really hate to be that guy or gal on the extreme right, the red dot who scored a 2400, yet had a 3.7 GPA in high school, and as a result was denied admission to Stanford. What was the particular case there? Did her father get injured or killed in Afghanistan? Did he contract diabetes in high school and lose his ability to focus during tests from attempting to learn how to control blood sugar swings? Perhaps she was hit in the head with a softball and was unable to get her vision stabilized for a critical year due to a ‘snap-back’ injury?
What bothers me, is not the fact that this dot exists in red (non-acceptance) on the Stanford chart – What bothers me is the fact that fewer than 5 candidates with an exceptionally high SAT, had a suitable excuse as to why their GPA was below a 4.0. Moreover, all the GPA’s are unrealistically smashed into the 4.0 ceiling, offering no way to adjudicate between students – and hinting strongly indicative towards a reliance upon an overinflated student measure. This is an extreme problem – a bias in selection towards falsely inflated GPA’s which will end up biting us in the ass one day as a nation.
I will contend this, that of those students who equaled me in GPA in high school, only two had a higher SAT score (one went to MIT and the other to Princeton), and only 3 out of the entire 15 actually did anything at all with their lives. The remaining 12 simply followed the instructions, took up a slot at the University, absorbed a scholarship, and then left school and did absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. As a man who funds scholarships for disadvantaged students now at my alma mater, this waste of top academic slots really pisses me off.
We all received scholarships of varying magnitude. 80% of both the scholarships and the university slots were wasted on these rule follower students. GPA for them turned out simply to constitute an ego trip of enormously costly social impact. Were we to have relied upon SAT scores more heavily, at least 2/3’rds of these candidates would have never made it into tier I universities. Their GPA’s were high because they endeared themselves with the teachers and followed the rules obsessively. But they had no desire whatsoever to actually apply the education they were abusing. Their SAT scores, were in the high to average range. These socialites could have been replaced by persons who actually sought to do something with their lives, however were not as popular with their instructors or encountered a life challenge in high school. I know of several brilliant 3.7/3.8 GPA students who could have performed well in their places.
But if wasted scholarships and university admission slots were the only deleterious effect of endemic inflation of GPA’s, then that circumstance might almost be tolerable. Sadly however, this lesson about gaming the system and the numbers in favor of appearances bears additional ill fruit in terms of American Ethics, well beyond education. Let’s review what this false pretense, a mediocrity in 4.0, does in terms of the preparedness of the average high school student, as well as its eventual impact inside the workplace of ideas and accountability.
Achievement is questionable when the tasks entailed have been mandated to the achiever. Rule followers will always ask how high they should jump. Aptitude in part, indicates the propensity to achieve when the achievement goals are no longer mandatory or are not so well defined. Just as morality is defined often as being what one does when no one is looking, in similar form true aptitude based achievement is indicated by what goals one sets when no one any longer is telling you what to do next.
1. It stimulates egregious levels of grade inflation at the high school level.
2. It tempts instructors to reward with grades those they personally like, more than those they do not.
3. It encourages and mandates a culture of systemic cheating, especially at the collegiate level.
4. It spreads the zone of acceptability into ranges of candidates who are not characterized by particularly high involvement in ideas, other than those they have been taught to tender fealty towards.
5. It weakens our society in its ability to discern those of a high level of integrity, ambition and acumen, from those who are susceptible to corruptibility or diffidence (see graph above).
6. It creates an unfair disadvantage to students who suffered life trauma or who’s parents endured military or dynamic career interruptions during their high school tenure. Socially fixed students will advance in contrast.
7. It weakens our society in its ability to discern those of a high level of integrity and acumen, from those who simply followed all the rules (see graph above).
8. It promotes a reliance on Social Skepticism, and not science, as the means of cultivating and filtering ideas, obtaining information and understanding knowledge development.
9. It leaves students and their society unarmed with the ideas and insights necessary in combating corruption and cartel and socialist based economics.
10. It trains shallow, procedural acumen, and ‘cover your ass’ political leaders who know that appearances are all that matter.
GPA is an Unreliable Predictor of Success in the Professional STEM Workplace
Through an inflated 4.0 level of following the next steps, you can aspire someday to sit in a really nice cubicle or corner office. But you are less likely to bear the character or skill set which can stand to change the world of ideas. Moreover, you might fall destiny to becoming a fixture inside of that which ultimately needs changing.
Just as GPA was an unreliable predictor of professional success in my high school experience, on the broader market – it is an unreliable predictor of anything aside from ‘graduation rates’ themselves. Now again as a reminder here, were are not talking about a 4.0 versus 2.9 GPA, rather the artifice of employing 3.7 to 4.0 differentials to trump aptitude measures altogether as the basis for college admissions. This social presumption, along with the refusal to examine longer term professional success along these GPA differential lines, is well… pseudoscience. Employing graduation rates as the outcome measure in the effectiveness of GPA based admissions is a lackluster approach to evaluating its effectiveness. The observation we all need to make is ‘What is this adherence to pretenses and image, producing in terms of professional culture in America?’ There are several problems with using GPA as the sole means, or dominant means of acceptance to tier I universities, which manifests later in life to become problems in the workplace. These are the ones I have observed over three decades of hiring, teaching and managing STEM professionals in a highly demanding set of professional workplace environments. Yes, ones which seek to change the world, but more importantly, ones which seek out integrity and ethics over compliance and dogma.
1. It stimulates evaluation of professionals based on their ability to follow preprogrammed objectives only. Early in my career it was hard to distinguish performance over those who followed every instruction to the tee. I wasted years attempting to demonstrate that more than this was required to impress clients and solve complex problems.
2. It tempts managers to reward with high objective ratings, those they personally like, more than those they do not – because they cannot distinguish talent from compliance. I personally rated those who challenged me with objective ideas, higher than those who simply agreed with me, who were also higher ranked than those who simply sought to be disagreeable.
3. It renders executives into ‘pathways of privilege’ wherein it is the school you attend and the endorsements you receive socially which determine your career track, and not competence – only the appearance thereof. I have witnessed hundreds of executives who, bounce from top job to top job simply because of their executive MBA and social class; executives who bear no more depth or understanding, than does a mid level manager of those same businesses. I have witnessed entitled persons be given Senior VP slots within years after graduation, and then after taking a 3 year break – be given the CEO role in a major corporation, simply because they were blessed as uber-compliant/uber-diligent. Are these people going to challenge illegal and unethical activity when they encounter it? Hell no, they hope to be gifted with its inheritance, so why would they raise a stink?
4. It encourages and mandates a culture of systemic gaming, fraud and cheating with respect to published numbers. The rate of fraud, account manipulation for quarterly financial results, production number tweaking, and milestone padding, is rampant in procedural acumen based companies. Some very noteworthy clients of mine over the years were rife with numerical fraud practices. It was particularly disconcerting to observe this habit, from those who graduated from a very familiar B-school.
5. It spreads the uncertainty factor on the performance of entry level candidates based upon simply their academic performance alone. I typically asked for university name, example leadership roles and SAT score – and providing their GPA was above a 3.0 – I did not care. A 3.8 from Ball State simply did not match up to a 3.3 at Stanford. Nor did I want to hire a slob with a 3.9 or 4.0 who simply sat in front of a computer for 4 years (even and especially if your degree was Information Technology) and did nothing but classwork or a little TA assistanceship. Not impressed.
6. It weakens our businesses in their ability to discern those of a high level of integrity and acumen, from those who are susceptible to corruptibility (see graph above).
7. It creates professionals who constantly reply to new challenges “But I have not been trained on how to do that.”
8. It renders our society vulnerable to professionals who skirt the system, game the rules to steal money, or think that putting all other mid-tier businesses out of business is congruent with ‘competitiveness,’ or fail to see the unethical nature of an industry vertical dominated by cartel. Over the years I worked with several clients who’s strategy it was to use unfair offshore cost advantage agreements to put smaller domestic competitors out of business, and then raise prices back to a higher level than they were previously once completed. We reside in this Cartel Based Economy now. It is a 4.0 GPA Cartel Economy of our own crafting.
9. It promotes a reliance on Social Skepticism, and not science, as the means of cultivating and filtering ideas, obtaining information and understanding knowledge development.
10. It results in professionals who feel entitled as if they are supposed to be “in charge” from day one. Professionals who are easily offended when other persons apply strong aptitude for results in a subject, customer or corporate challenge. Aptitude which threatens their internal assessment of their own superiority. They are perplexed and angry that they followed all the rules and were not given all the glory as usual.
11. It renders professionals and governments unarmed with the ideas and insights necessary in combating corruption and mafia or cartel based economics. There are numerous ministers in foreign countries, with whom I worked over the years, who ascended to their positions through the graces of a controlling cabal, cartel or mafia. They were afraid to do anything other than follow the rules they were given. Their people suffered as a result. They were emasculated, terrified servants, with perfect GPA’s.
12. It trains shallow, procedural acumen, and ‘cover your ass’ political leaders who know that appearances are all that matter.
Interestingly, there is not one Celebrity SSkeptic I know, who would have ever passed the screening and interview process for hiring into one of my companies. It is always refreshing, not to mention highly effective, to work with sincere mindsets and not those who made it by on a daisy chain of one academic achievement underpinning the credibility basis for the next scheduled one. For the Ethical Skeptic, it all starts at the watering hole of collegiate academic evaluation and acceptance methods. Will we return again to choosing those students with success-oriented integrity and acumen habits (aptitude), or retreat further headlong into policies of rewarding scripted ideas, obsessive compliance, and a cultivation of 4.0 mediocrity, spun as ‘achievement?’
Hence of course the charter of this blog: Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance.
¹ Nick Anderson, The Washington Post: Education; March 16, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/sat-usage-declined-in-29-states-over-7-years/2014/03/15/f4504cfc-a5ff-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html.
² Stanford GPA, SAT and ACT Data, Allen Grove; About Education; http://collegeapps.about.com/od/GPA-SAT-ACT-Graphs/ss/stanford-admission-gpa-sat-act.htm.
³ Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post: Local; September 14, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/what-the-decline-in-sat-scores-really-means/2011/09/14/gIQAdUzdSK_blog.html.
† “Grade Inflation: The Current Fraud.” By M. Donald Thomas and William L. Bainbridge.
Effective School Research. January 1997.
‡ James Hamblin, The Atlantic: “100 Percent Is Overrated – People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong.” June 30, 2015; http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/06/the-s-word/397205/.
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