November 27th, 2004

abstract butterfly

in favor of practical solutions

“They had the intelligence, study habits, work ethic, personal qualities, and even the grades to do quite well in law school, but they were having trouble being admitted to the caliber of schools their abilities and grades warranted" Dr. Robert Webking

"We decided to try to fix it — not the LSAT, or the admissions process, or our students’ test-taking skills, but rather their chances of competing successfully for admission into law school" Dr. Robert Webking

Law school admissions differ from admissions to many graduate institutions. At many other kinds of graduate schools, the admissions process has an almost holistic approach--looking at the "whole student" to cipher out the admissions from the rejections.

Law school admissions use a much more limited form of "discretionary admissions". The "giant first cut" in law school is done by weighting the student's grade point average and Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score. The "formula result" reached by such a weighting (which weight varies a bit from school to school) then is compared with a benchmark, creating sheep and goats. A few folks are admitted (the ratio varies from school to school) based on individualized review, usually because they fall within the "margins" of the formulae. At the most elite schools, so many people have near-top formula results that "holistic" review once again becomes necessary.

This leads to a difficult problem for some kids. Some kids just don't test well. Yet at many law schools, the LSAT is accorded tremendous weight. A student can literally get a 4.0, a thousand academic ribbons, save children in Bengladesh during Summers, get a low LSAT and miss out on the top law schools.

Now in the gurdonark world, top law schools are not the beginning and end of the world. Run of the mill law schools, and hard work, provide plenty of Horatio Alger moments, without those disquieting "but do you know what the novelist was really like?" weirdnesses.

But to a lot of kids, getting into elite schools matter. Sadly, too, in academia and in some aspects of the corporate world, elitism rules over all. This is particularly troubling in the context of kids from under represented minority groups. For whatever reasons, they score lower scores than kids who are not in other groups.

Lots of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth about the fairness of standardized tests arises from all this. I do not propose to address that fascinating debate. Instead, I want to write about a simple way someone undertook to solve the problem within the current system.

Collapse )
abstract butterfly

Leonard on my Mind

We spent an hour this morning on the phone with my parents, getting caught up on Thanksgiving. Then my wife hopped in the car to do errands and detours, while I hopped in my car to get some exercise. I drove past Princeton, over the Lake Lavon bridge, to the Sister Grove Park. The wind blew so brisky I had to put on my winter coat, although the temperature was not cold.

I pulled out a huge kite, to celebrate the wind, and the blue/blue sky. But my huge kite lacked a tail, and after it went well aloft, it went well un-aloft, crashing down in a thorny deciduous holly. I rescued the kite, and began to walk the path. I saw damselflies, grasshoppers and a sprightly cardinal bird.

I drove into the town of Leonard, population around 1800. I had a notion to go to the little town history museum I have driven by on many a Sunday. In the museum, they had pictures of people standing by cotton bales, and pictures of graduating classes. The class of 1906 had 7 graduates. By 1931, they had 20something graduates. By the 50s, they were back in the teens again. I liked the little anteroom with pictures of all the town doctors, and a case of their medical bags. The curator was very kind, although all her stories seemed to involve her own relatives. I liked the patchwork quilts--I like quilts built of real patches and rags, rather than things from the "quilting crafters" store.

I drove to Lea's Restaurant, in Leonard, where I waited the longest I have ever waited to be served a rather bland plate of Tex/Mex food. I read a small town newspaper from Sulphur Springs I bought Friday, which had a feature on a quilter selected for the world quilt exhibition in Houston. She said she saw quilts as art, and so do I.

We went tonight to "Ray", the movie biopic about Ray Charles. We thought the movie quite good, and Jamie Foxx gave a very good performance. I thought the picture tried to do too much, and yet still skimmed over some key parts of Mr. Charles' life. Also, although "The Conformist" is one of my favorite movies, I traditionally dislike psychoanalytic "solutions" to the puzzles that make us who we are, tied up in a neat plot. But I still very much liked the film.

We stopped by Coffee Dreams, the neighborhood coffee place, where my wife had a Gingerbread Chai (which was heavenly) and I had a huge hot chocolate. A small musical group played songs in the corner. One pianist sang a song slightly off-key about how if he seemed he was not there, to go find him, while a duo accompanied by a single guitar sang a song about how a beloved reminded them of a familiar home in need of renovation. We're all HGTV projects, one way or another, I suppose.

I believe, on principle, that the Saturday after Thanksgiving should feature "Miracle on 34th Street" rather than a Godfather sequel. Thank goodness I own videos.