The sat is a completely different game than school, so you have to learn how to play this game

L.A.-based startup Imbellus plans lớn upset the SAT & ACT’s monopoly with a chạy thử it says accurately gauges critical thinking.

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In statistical terms, this is the golden age of American higher education. More than 1 in 3 Americans has at least a bachelor’s degree, the most ever. Almost 70 percent of high school seniors graduating this spring will go khổng lồ college in the fall, compared with about half during the mid-1970s.

The benefits of all that education, however, are highly uneven. The campuses of elite colleges remain disproportionately populated by the rich. At selective universities—ones that admit fewer than half of applicants—3 out of 4 students come from the richest quartile of families. According to Opportunity Insights, a research group led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, children from families in the top 1 percent of income distribution are 77 times more likely to attkết thúc an Ivy-plus school—Ivy League plus Duke, MIT, Stanford, & the University of Chicago—than those from the bottom trăng tròn percent.

Put another way: Higher education in America is a racket.

On March 12, just as millions of nervous 12th graders were about to lớn find out where they’ll be spending the next four years, the FBI announced the arrests of 50 people—including two Hollywood actresses, the co-chairman of a prominent global law firm, and the former chief executive sầu officer of Pimco—in a scandal that exposed a culture of fraud at the heart of the college-admissions process. The FBI investigation, called Operation Varsity Blues, found that wealthy Americans are no longer buying spots for their children the old-fashioned way, with seven-figure donations, or finagling them through family legacies và social connections; they’re actively conspiring with criminal fixers, coaches, và college officials lớn cheat, lie, and bribe their way in, too. As Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, put it in a press conference, “The case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud.”


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Getting a college degree has long been integral to the mythic promise of American opportunity. Yet for millions, it’s become exactly that, a myth—& a very expensive myth at that. The average student leaves school carrying $30,000 in debt. More than 40 percent of students who enter college fail to lớn earn a degree within six years, & many of them wind up in the workforce lacking the credentials và practical skills required lớn get ahead. The U.S. system of higher education isn’t the main source of economic inechất lượng in America. But it’s almost certainly making things worse.

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A 27-year-old entrepreneur who dropped out of Harvard, Rebecca Kantar, has a plan to lớn fix it. The American obsession with college admissions, she says, benefits the wealthiest & highest-achieving students, while leaving the vast majority ill-qualified for the jobs of the future. She says a big part of the problem is the avalanđậy of standardized tests students take from kindergarten through high school, a $10 billion industry that drives much of what’s taught in the classroom. At the top of the pyramid sit the SAT and ACT, the generations-old multiple-choice tests that still help khổng lồ determine who gains entry to lớn top colleges và universities.

In Kantar’s view, those tests reveal little, if anything, about whether a student has the cognitive sầu skills essential for success beyond college. As the FBI’s investigation reveals, the SAT and ACT can also be gamed: The mastermind of the scheme had parents petition for their kids khổng lồ take the tests in largely unsupervised settings, then submitted nhái scores on their behalf. “The system has coalesced around things that work for at most 30 percent or so of kids,” Kantar says. “They don’t work for the rest.”

Kantar is the founder of Imbellus Inc., a startup in Los Angeles that aims to reinvent testing and, in the process, challenge the received wisdom about what students are expected to learn. The digital assessments Imbellus has developed resemble đoạn Clip games. Placing users in a simulated natural environment, they present thử nghiệm takers with a series of tasks, all the while capturing the decision-making process used lớn complete them. And because each simulation delivers a chất lượng user experience, they’re intended khổng lồ be cheatproof.

“For more than 50 percent of kids, college is net bad”

Since coming up with the idea for the company four years ago, Kantar has raised more than $23.5 million in funding, hired a dozen Ph.D.s, và persuaded the consulting giant McKinsey và Co., and a few others, khổng lồ work with Imbellus to create game-based tests that measure prospective employees’ decision-making, adaptability, và critical thinking. She argues that by harnessing advances in computing power, artificial intelligence, & data science, her assessments can deliver a quantitative picture of how a worker thinks. But her goals go beyond providing corporate America with a sharper hiring tool: “That is a problem. We bởi try to lớn address it,” she says. “But it’s not the problem.”

Kantar’s premise is that huge numbers of American students laông xã the competencies required in an age of automation, because the country’s schools are failing to provide them with the proper preparation. “It’s not an aptitude problem—it’s a practice problem. They aren’t practicing the right kind of thinking.” In her view, expanding economic opportunity is impossible without transforming the way big institutions kiểm tra for and evaluate student potential. “If you want to change the default settings in the system,” she says, “you’ve sầu got to start at the top.”


Kantar stands 5-foot-4, with straight brown hair that falls almost to lớn her waist. She speaks in bursts of increasing velocity, as if she’s in a hurry. She grew up in Newton, Mass., an affluent suburb of Boston that churns out high achievers. Kantar’s parents own a construction company that specializes in environmentally sustainable development, which they run out of the bottom floor of their elegant five-bedroom home page.

From the start, Kantar’s interests were mostly extracurricular. She sewed her own clothes, played the trumpet, took up stained glass & pottery, & sold her handmade creations at friends’ bar mitzvahs. In junior high she started taking Mandarin—she slipped worksheets inkhổng lồ waterproof folders so she could practice in the shower—& earned a grant from the city council lớn stage a Chinese-language production of Cinderella. In high school, Kantar helped create Minga, a student-run charity dedicated to raising awareness about the child sex trade. The group raised $100,000 in five years, with Kantar leading a half-dozen other teens on a 40-city speaking tour. At 18 she gave sầu her first TED Talk. “I really enjoyed thinking about how complex the problem was, how many different pieces were involved,” she says, over a plate of pasta near her parents’ trang chính in Newton. “That’s what I learned about myself: I had a propensity for thinking about complex systems dynamics.”

But she had little patience for formal education. “She didn’t enjoy her classes,” says her father, Jonathan, “but she did take them seriously. And she’s very competitive sầu.” She devoted considerable time khổng lồ tutoring her younger brother, Josh, who has an undiagnosed developmental disability. “I’ve sầu always believed Josh is capable of more things than most people would assume, if he were taught those things in the right way. And as a little kid I put in a lot of energy figuring out what is the right way.”

As a high school senior, she was accepted to Harvard, Princeton, & Yale, và was offered a full scholarship to lớn Duke. She chose Harvard. “I wouldn’t say I was excited when I started, but I recognized why it was important to try it. After my first semester, I was like, ‘Yeah, no. Done.’ ” Her parents allowed her lớn move bachồng home but insisted she stay in school.

By that time, she’d written a business plan và gotten seed funding for her first company, BrightCo, a network of socially minded young entrepreneurs who provided brvà advice to lớn large corporations. When Harvard rejected her proposal lớn create an interdisciplinary major called Leadership and Organizations, she decided lớn drop out. “For us, it was drilled inkhổng lồ our heads that a four-year degree from a high-chất lượng university was your ticket khổng lồ success,” says her mother, Ruth. “But there was no stopping her. It wasn’t just ‘I want to quit because this is too hard’ or ‘I don’t want lớn bởi this anymore.’ She just finally convinced us that this was the right thing for her.”

Kantar sold BrightCo lớn the expert-advisory company Gerson Lehrman Group Inc., moved lớn New York, và began plotting to disrupt the U.S. education system. She initially thought of designing an alternative sầu college curriculum focused on work-oriented, project-based learning và selling it to elite universities. “It was the most fabulous nonstarter I’d ever encountered,” says Jeff Brenzel, a former dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, who met Kantar in 2014. “These schools were not going lớn outsource half of their undergraduate program khổng lồ Rebecca Kantar.” She decided to lớn shift her focus away from what college students learned on campus khổng lồ how they got there.

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In 2018 more than 2 million students took the SAT & 1.9 million took the ACT. Kantar argues that these standardized tests exacerbate inequality in two ways. Most obviously, they give an advantage to lớn wealthier students who can pay for tutoring và test-preparation courses—or for nhái scores, as was the case in Operation Varsity Blues. The other effect is more pernicious. At least as early as high school, classroom instruction is geared to boost kids’ performance on college-admissions tests. But those tests measure what students already know, not the qualities employers and economists say they need lớn thrive in the future: problem-solving, critical reasoning, collaboration, creativity, empathy. “I’m interested in introducing tests that, hopefully, impose standards that shape curriculum in a way that’s better than tests that are shaping it now,” Kantar says. “It’s less about who does & does not get into Harvard. Yeah, that matters. It’s a topic. But it’s secondary to changing the mặc định settings of the education-to-employment system so that it works better for all kids.”

“I’m not saying that kids don’t need to know history or math or biology. They bởi vì. But my thought is, can you move sầu the North Star of the system a bit?”

Kantar advocates project-based learning, rather than content mastery, và pushing students to lớn apply their knowledge outside of the classroom. She doesn’t necessarily support a German-style system, in which a student is placed in either a baccalaureate or vocational traông chồng before entering high school. Rather, she’s arguing for creating standards that force schools lớn prioritize teaching students how to lớn think for themselves. “The nature of human intelligence required in even the most elite jobs is very different than what it was 30 years ago. If you look at any job across the spectrum, whether it’s a blue-collar job or a white-collar job, the thinking skills involved are getting harder, not easier,” she says. “My point is not to lớn reconnect education to work so that we pump kids out of college into factory jobs. It’s about schools’ focusing a little less on one specific phối of information and a little bit more on the thinking faculties needed to lớn be an adult.”

Brenzel, the former Yale admissions dean, says the SAT và ACT “have become essentially what Rebecca believes: a measure of an important but very narrowly defined cognitive skill set. But there’s been no alternative.” The College Board—the nonprofit consortium of schools that owns the SAT & which generated more than $1 billion in revenue in 2017—has over the years introduced changes khổng lồ the thử nghiệm, in response to lớn accusations of bias in its questions. But it’s largely resisted altering the basic format: a timed, multiple-choice thử nghiệm of math and literacy skills, administered in a proctored setting on a scheduled date.

The SAT remains a useful tool for predicting whether students can handle their first year of college, says Jaông chồng Buckley, a former senior vice president of the College Board, who joined Imbellus in January as its president & chief scientist. But in the wake of Operation Varsity Blues, the folly of using such an easily manipulated demo for high-stakes evaluation has never been more apparent. “There are a lot of people hungry for the system khổng lồ change,” Buckley says. “But the College Board is a membership organization where the key members are institutions of higher education. They can’t get too far ahead of what higher ed wants. And getting higher ed lớn change is hard.” In an emailed statement, College Board spokesman Zachary Goldberg says its research demonstrates that SAT scores “improve the ability to predict college performance above high school GPA alone.” As for reports of cheating, Goldberg says “The College Board has significantly increased our test security efforts & resources in recent years to lớn combat theft và organized cheating.” These steps include “producing more kiểm tra nội dung, banning & collecting cell phones, employing lochồng boxes, conducting data-driven analyses of test taker behaviors, and enhancing security measures at chạy thử centers.”  

Chuyên mục: Tin Tức