Am I an Activist? Gasp!

I’m going to break a rule of mine.  I’m going to feed a troll.

There’s this guy out there, Douglas Groene.  He calls himself the Pencil Nerd, as if he’s never really looked up the definition of nerd.  Or perhaps he has, and thinks that wishing can change the definition of words.  Or perhaps more accurately, trolls and nerds are somehow related.  I’m not sure, but I do wonder about that nom de plume of his; it sounds to me like someone with an unusual fetish or an image problem.  Whatever.

Anyway, he makes his living selling test prep services, and he has a blog, where he preaches about the value and importance of standardized tests in college admissions.

For the last year or so, ever since DePaul announced that we’ve decided to go test-optional in freshman admission, Mr. Groene been tweeting ad nauseum his blog post about our change in policy, calling it a “horrible decision.”  He is of course entitled to an uninformed opinion, and far be it from me to disabuse him of it.  After all, a man is entitled to earn a living, and, as Upton Sinclair wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

In the last day or so, though, he has labeled me as a member of the “anti-SAT activist” group along with Bob Schaeffer at FairTest, and Joseph Soares, a professor at Wake Forest .  A couple of things, Mr. Groene:

  • I’m not anti-test.  Tests do measure some things.  But they don’t predict anything of much value by themselves, or even in addition to high school GPA.  If you have done any research at all, you know this.  But I doubt you have, and I doubt you are truly interested in the truth.
  • You suggest that I have an agenda.  I don’t.  I started with the facts and came to some reasonable conclusions, unlike you who spout your opinions and then argue them as facts: A logical fallacy referred to as “begging the question.”  Your website says you are an attorney. I think lawyers call it submitting facts not in evidence.
  • I’m only trying to do what is best for students: To find a way to select those who are going to be successful at my university.  You, on the other hand, depend on the value of the tests (and students’ fears about them) to make a living.   Perhaps you might concede that you are far less disinterested than I?
  • You make blanket statements about why DePaul made this decision, but you didn’t talk to me.  I don’t think you read anything we wrote, in fact.  You have only blanket, unproved aphorisms on your side of the argument; not a shred of evidence about whether this decision is right for us.
  • To that point about our motivation: We’re reporting all the scores of all the students who enroll; but if we wanted to inflate scores, there are far easier ways to do it, such as reporting “Super Scores.”  We never have; we don’t, and we won’t.  We could also inflate application numbers by using VIP Apps, Fast Apps, and other methods.  We don’t do that, either.  In fact, none of the reasons you listed apply to us. Yet you persist.
  • You say we (our newly-named group) use “distorted statistics and lies,” even though we cite scads of unbiased research, conducted over decades.  You cite studies conducted by the College Board.  See above point about neutrality.

If you’re interested, here’s a little presentation I did to High School Counselors.

I understand that you are probably a pro at taking standardized tests, and you thus may believe you are smarter than the rest of humanity.  But this fact should, prima facie, support the point that they are not measures of critical thinking skills, and certainly not of intelligence.

So, you keep making your points, if you must.  But the more you rant and the more you post, the more you expose just how hollow and vapid your opinions are.




9 thoughts on “Am I an Activist? Gasp!

  1. Methinks the Nerd doth protest too much. And when it comes to college admission and standardized tests, Alexander Pope should be your guide, you, you, you—Pro SAT Activist:

    A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.


  2. I have read both of your positions, and I believe the truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes, but that your point, Jon is more in the middle and reasonable. Tests are OK but not perfect and not for everyone.

    However, anyone who refers to himself in the third person all the time (“DePaul rep attacks Pencil Nerd”) needs some help, unless Pencil Nerd is a pro athlete.


  3. Having read both blogs, I must say that PencilNerd is missing the boat factually on numerous issues. First – the claims about validity tests/research not having methodological weight because students self-select into colleges by narrow SAT/ACT bands is just nonsense. This view comes from those who can only see Ivies and highly selective institutions in their perspective of the world. DePaul, as an urban private institution, has an extraordinary range of students presenting ACT scores from 30+ to 16ish – based on the fact that Chicago Public Schools average ACT score is around 17. So, when DePaul conducts it’s own validity studies, as encouraged by NACAC (the national governing body for all things admission), they are actually running tests on a broad swath of students. They should know what their own data say.

    PencilNerd – another thing you don’t get is that this is ACT country out here. And, no, DePaul is not going to make anyone take the SAT after they are admitted – god forbid – that is exactly what DePaul is railing against! However, Illinois and several other states are ACT state-testing entities which means that all high school juniors take the ACT. So, almost all applicants to DePaul have an ACT score, whether they choose to submit them or not. DePaul, by collecting and reporting all existing scores after the fact is setting up to conduct robust research (just as Bates College and other test-optional colleges have done) and to eliminate any charge of trying to manipulate their student profile and subsequent rankings. This is a highly ethical stance – something you might celebrate rather than criticize!

    There are other errors which could be addressed – but suffice to say, PencilNerd misses the point. Jon’s point about trying to help students who can be successful at his university is exactly the direction that higher education needs to go. We need to stop obsessing about test scores coming in (that are not closely tied to the high school curriculum – it would be a different story if they truly were!) and start focusing on outcomes four years down the road. DePaul has an excellent track record with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and first-generation students – these students graduate from DePaul at much higher rates than similar students across the nation. This is not “social promotion” as PencilNerd asserts – this is recognizing that student strengths and talents might be packaged in other forms than that of an almighty SAT score.

    Martha Allman from Wake Forest University had a great quote when she was asked whether a good student should spend her next few Saturdays paying a tutor and prepping for another round of standardized testing – Martha suggested “you should spend your Saturdays playing your viola in the youth symphony, reading good books, volunteering to make your community better, exploring your mathematical and scientific passions and maybe just ‘thinking’ rather that practicing test strategies.” (Washington Post article) I couldn’t agree more and wish that more of my high school students would hear this message!


  4. Hi John. I saw this on Linkedin and always enjoy what you write on the NACAC list serve.

    We in guidance know that DePaul made its decision by coming at this from the right direction but I don’t know that I would be confident in saying that about every school that does so.

    You should ignore the pencilnerd. there are too many people on the Internet who love to express pent up anger online. We would be better off without people bringing the discourse down all the time.


  5. Amanda’s most correct John. The internet does allow for incredible communication and thought sharing and unfortunately in this case uninformed opinions that most obviously reflect a motive far from the students best interests.


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