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For Asians, School Tests Are Vital Steppingstones (nytimes.com)
42 points by 001sky 1608 days ago | hide | past | web | 40 comments | favorite

Not sure if it's just me, but it sure seems like a massive case of entitlement.

"You shouldn’t have to prep Sunday to Sunday, to get into a good high school... That's extreme." Actually that's how it largely is for competitive colleges, and if people are arguing for a merit-based admission system that is _exactly_ what people should have to do if other people are willing to.

Tough to tell where the author is landing on this point in his article.

It's difficult for Americans to accept working harder (insanely harder) gets you further in life. Intelligence is supposed to be innate, not something you can manipulate by "working harder." Whether you are smart or dumb, you should be happy about it and still be a millionaire.

It seems so unfair painfully studying and drilling makes you seem smarter. Why is it unfair? Because Americans obviously don't want to painfully study and drill math and science and culture when they could be texting or playing video games or drinking diet energy mountain dew xtreme (the dewiest).

This seems unfair. First, there are absolutely economic and cultural factors that cause noise in the meritocracy. Second, for those Americans who aren't in disadvantaged economic situations, there's certainly an emphasis on 'being happy' and being at least a bit of a generalist here which isn't as present in many other places.

Reducing that to 'text or playing video games or drinking diet energy mountain dew xtreme (the dewiest)' is dismissive and lowers the conversation.

Good point. I was approaching from a view of mostly well off Americans who get annoyed when fer'ners show up and become more successful than they are. It's completely different when you consider people who don't even know how to do academic things well being placed against extreme cram school cultures.

See: waiting for superman, the lottery, a few Frontline specials about it, and mst3k episode 816.

Ah, yes, I see the context now. I suppose I have less an less exposure to people like that these days, so they rarely factor into my understanding.

Probably fair to say there's a mix of different attitudes, understanding, expectations, and hopes in the American landscape.

I don't think it's that, I think at the end of the day it's racism.

Oh, the other kids are doing better than you Timmy? Well you've got to study harder!

What, the Asian got a better grade than you? Well, can't help that.

I mean, I think there is a general kind of attitude that Asian people don't really count towards raising the bar - there really is no other way to describe it.


Note: Asian means Indian too :P

I don't know if you've ever stepped foot in an American high school but I can tell you from experience that the things you must do to do very well in an American high school are not things to be proud of.

That everyone should have access to a good high school is entitlement?

That someone believes they deserve admission to a specific set of schools as much as someone else who is working 10-100x harder with the specific goal of attaining admission to those schools? Yes, I believe that is entitlement.

Why not have more good schools? Why not give rewarding jobs to smart talented people from any backgroung instead of people with degrees from a small number of blessed institutions? Why not give better teachers to kids who aren't lucky enough to have education-minded parents? Why not level the playing field?

Stuyvesant has plenty of bad teachers. The good schools are largely defined by getting the good students. If we switched the student body of Stuyvesant with that of Washington Irving, Washington Irving would become one of the best high schools in the city and Stuyvesant would become a school where parents beg their students not be sent.

This is the most important point. The benefit of these elite schools, is that peer pressure plays a positive role. All kids compete at these schools, form study groups etc.. Teachers want to teach motivated students and these things together drive education.

Beyond what comicjk said, yes in general we should yearn for the best education to be given to all of those who have a thirst to learn it - but that is not the point of this article so much as saying which students in particular should get into a selection of schools.

This article only covers the elite "specialized" schools, which are not the only decent option in New York. There are also the "screened" schools, where admission is based on grades and attendence, not to mention the "audition" schools, which focus on performing arts and base admission on an audition. Failing to get into the very best schools is not the end of the world.

But the big problem is that the vast majority of children in New York City (and many other cities all over the world, of course) come from families where the parents are either functionally or completely illiterate, have no understanding of how to study, and/or simply do not value academic achievement. This is a big problem that you can't exactly solve by relaxing admissions standards -- it was tried with CUNY, and it resulted in a mass exodus of all the good students.

In China and the rest of East Asia, there is a centuries-old culture of studying your ass off to succeed in life. The article cites Confucianism etc. but it really derives more from the Chinese Imperial Examination, which if you passed, guaranteed you a good job. Good schools and good jobs in China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea even now are usually only obtained by passing an exam. When they immigrate over here and they encounter a situation where they can benefit by passing an exam, they tend to excel.

By contrast, most of the other places that send lots of immigrants to New York (the American South, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica, to name a few) don't have this cultural history at all. They don't know what to do, and the schools are not entirely prepared to teach them.

But the big problem is that the vast majority of children in New York City (and many other cities all over the world, of course) come from families where the parents are either functionally or completely illiterate, have no understanding of how to study, and/or simply do not value academic achievement.

I think this is by far the biggest problem with education in western countries, to the extent that it dwarfs any other consideration. Better textbooks, better teaching methods, better equipment, better teachers, better curriculums, better classroom sizes - they are all minor issues compared with the children wanting to learn and their families supporting them on that point.

The real question to be asked is that whether the tests are serving the intended purpose i.e that of finding the best students of the lot (best can be defined as being most knowledgeable of the subject being tested). A student with experience of solving of large number of questions will have an advantage over another student who knows the subject matter but have not done any test prep.

In India, where I come from, this is a almost a way of life. Almost all prestigious institutions including graduate schools determine whom to admit based on a test score (and an interview in some places), as opposed to the practice in the U.S (graduate schools) of considering a candidate's GPA,essays etc. On one hand this a very transparent method ,which is important in a country plagued with corruption like India. But on the other hand it leads students to play the "test-prep game" i.e practicing a large numbers of similar questions. This has led to test prep becoming a lucrative business. Students who do not attend the "coaching centers", which are often more expensive than the regular schools they go to, will lose out to students who do, even though the knowledge the subject is the same. In India it has manifested as a problem when students from rural areas losing out students from urban regions, due to lack of these test prep centers.

The truth of the matter is that such tests serves as a good mechanism to condense a large applicant pool to a smaller one. But to base the entire admission process on one test doesn't seem to be optimal.

Why should the best students (and what does that even reslly mean?) get the best teachers? Maybe the best students don't need great teachers.

I suppose in the context of abraham_s's post "best" is in the eye of the selector: who is likely to be a benefit to the institution, including to their fellow students?

"Should" high-achieving students and teachers be grouped together? I don't know about that, but I would guess that the reason they often do is rooted in mutual preference.

"Best" is as defined by the selector i.e the schools. Whether the method chosen to rank the applicants truly measures what the selector wants to be measured is the real question. In other words whether the school end up with the best test takers who may or may not be the students they were really looking for.

The $REDACTED, like other $ETHNICITY families who spoke about the exam in interviews in the past month, did not deny engaging in extensive test preparation.

Can anyone see this sentence coming out of the New York Times for any other ethnic group? It's like studying geometry has the whiff of something suspicious to it.

Lol. :)

Jokes aside, there are dichotomic interpretations of "studying geometry."

There is studying geometry for its own sake, otiose learning if you will, just like the ancient Greeks did.

And then there's studying it to pass an exam, the extreme version of it as portrayed and as you are no doubt first-hand familiar with in Japan, is 100% guaranteed to cripple whatever inner inclination one may have had towards geometry. Which is sad, because there's something wondrous about the nature of space, and whoever sees a glimmer whereof shouldn't have that inner eye pulverized.

It takes the likes of an Einstein adamantine to recover: "One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year."

In an age of abundance why wouldn't we rather have a million $REDACTED of $ETHNICITY origin bloom?

This reminds me of an older article from the WSJ:


Note that Monta Vista doesn't have an entrance exam - parents of students that work hard want to be around students that work at the same level.

"The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian."

"'This may not sound good,' she confides, 'but their child may be the only Caucasian kid in the class.'"

The difference is that the NYT article emphasizes the students' working class background. In Cupertino, the families tend to be upper middle class.

What is the relative success rate of ethnic groups who are accepted into the elite schools? If (making up numbers) 90-100% of Asians who are accepted into the school graduate, vs (again making up numbers) 40-50% of blacks/latinos/whites, that points to the entrance requirements (including exams) being a decent predictor of success; in that case, it should be less about messing with the entrance requirements and strengthening the support structure for other demographics.

If the numbers are flipped (a significant number of Asians get in but don't graduate, and vice versa for the other demographics) that points to something being wrong with the entrance requirements and those requirements should be re-evaluated.

99%+ of Stuyvesant students graduate, so that's not really a good measure at the level of the specialized high schools. Also, there are practically no black or Latino kids to compare. In 2011 72% of the students were Asian and 24% were white.


"memorizing surface area and volume formulas"? A=PiR*2? This combination of simple problems and extreme time commitment embodies everything that is wrong with the aforementioned approach.

Yea right. I'll take the doctor, pilot, and engineer who 'wasted' their time on memorizing formulas and 'over studying' over the lazy, entitlement, 'just enough' professional any day.

But good engineers don't memorize formulas. They understand them.

False dichotomy much?

At some level I think you have to do both. Either by explicit drilling or frequent use, you end up memorizing a lot of formulas anyway. And for the longer ones, it takes too long to derive from first principles every time, so whichever way it happens, it's good to have them in mental RAM. You can always look them up, but just knowing is faster.

..or at least know how to look them up

What ginko said. Engineers don't memorize formulas, we're taught to recognize the principles underlying problems, and then looking up the appropriate formula to address the problem. In high school all I did was rote memorization and I coasted through; I tried that approach during my first two years at MIT and struggled hard. Only after I finally realized that problem-solving was not the same as memorization did I start to "get it."

In fact, most of my college exams, as well as my Engineer-in-Training and Professional Engineering exams were open book/open note.

Personally i would choose the one that can think

Those are not the only choices.

What I'm getting from this article:

"It's not fair that asians get in because they work harder and try harder. We shouldn't let hard work be a determining factor."

But who knows, I'm asian so I'm biased. I had to work my ass off for things while other people went out, partied, slept in, went to bars and hung out with friends. I studied for my standardized tests by going to the local Borders and sitting there for hours without paying for the book but I guess not everyone is that creative.

Do you mean the article, or the non-asian voices in it?

I felt the article itself presented a fair picture of the sentiments from each corner, though I'm not particularly sensitive to bias.

As for the complaints about test-centrism, I felt they were echoing a belief that life should be and success is about more than cramming and solo achievement.

Extracurriculars, grades, and fuzzy-wooly essays/recommendations may be as strong metrics as standardized testing, but neither are our current tests nearly as good indicators as they could be.

For example, we could do more to promote problem-solving skills by providing test-takers with a much larger corpus, promote a minimum level of teamwork by allowing some collaborative problems, etc. Just some ideas.

Some context might be important here. The high schools mentioned in the article are primarily science high schools (the test is the SHSAT: Specialized High School Admissions Test), not general purpose super high schools. Other specialized high schools in the city focus on humanities, or performing arts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specialized_high_schools_in_New...

I went to Stuyvesant and knew people in Bronx and Brooklyn Tech, humanities are not given nearly as much weight as math and science. That being said, the way the test is scored favors lopsided performance in one section: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0A1FFC385A...

A high percentage of these admissions test questions do in fact call for analytical thinking rather than/in addition to factual knowledge (referred to here as "rote memorization"), so this thread definitely sets up a false dichotomy.

What is the purpose of school, education or selection?

Why can't it be both?

Weak article. Typical bias/stereotype that has little strength or meaning that I care about in it. Talent exists but no matter how talented you are, there's education for a reason. And tutoring is just a boost for that. No genius just absorbs information by himself.

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