What Does AI Say About Lack of Recognition for Scoring High in PSAT?

I have not posted on this blog for some time. Of course, that does not mean a lack of interest or concern. Schools are still trying to recover from the pandemic and the problem of inequity in education remains pressing. There is something novel, however, that has caught the attention of educators: Artificial Intelligence. There is now ChatGPT, a program that can write a paragraph when provided a prompt, which is quite alarming for classes that require students to write essays. So, I tried it this morning and this is what I got:

It is reasonable. In fact, ChatGPT is more reasonable than some parents in Fairfax county. Recently, some high schools in Fairfax county failed to notify their students of reaching a commended status in the PSAT. Just to be clear (from nationalmerit.org): 

What does it mean to be National Merit Commended?

Commended Students are named based on a nationally applied Selection Index score that may vary from year to year and is typically below the level required for participants to be named Semifinalists in their respective states.
Informing students of a commended performance is indeed the responsibility of the high school although a student can check this information from the cutoff score provided by the college board website. Unlike ChatGPT, the blogger at educationrealist has a lot more to say:

...So there it is. Because the school was late sending out the certificates, commended students who didn’t seek out the information on their own didn’t have the opportunity to list it as a fairly minor honor on their early admissions applications.

That’s….not a big deal.

One thing people need to remember is that TJ’s senior class is still part of the old highly competitive admissions process and even now still a highly competitive high school. TJ admission itself is a rough proxy for top 3-4% of all students. In 2022,  132 TJ students got Semifinalist, 240 got Commended. The remaining 19% of the 2023 graduating class probably had scores that missed the 3% cutoff by a point or two. In that context, Kosatka’s comment that “celebrating all but a few of the students” makes sense. They aren’t worried about low-achieving students resenting the two or three honors students, but rather actively making a big deal out of 80% of the class when the distinction is without a difference, at the TJ level.

Semifinalist is useful to a TJ student. Commended is not. (*Important future caveat below.) Commended wasn’t even that big a deal to the students themselves.  In the November emails written by an angry parent (presumably activist lawyer Shawnna Yashar), she admits that her son didn’t even bother to tell her about his Commended status because it’s not a big deal. The emails also show that the school used to have a National Merit ceremony, but nobody came so they quit having it.No Commended student was denied the right to earn a scholarship because there are no scholarships for Commended students...

...Like I said: lying or ignorant.

The only potential harm done by the delayed notification was in the limited sense that students who weren’t aware that Commended cutoffs could be looked up online and who would have included that information on their early admissions applications. That’s a small group. And that potential harm is being remedied by the school reaching out to colleges to ensure they have this information for the students’ applications.

This whole story is just utter, unmitigated bullshit–so much so that I’ve spent considerable time trying to see if I’ve missed something. Surely someone who gets paid to report would have looked up some of this? But not.

I understand why the activist parents are ginning up the story. They want to create political or even legal sympathy for their efforts to restor TJ’s admissions policies.

I don’t understand why the media–not just the reporters, but the many pundits and policy analysts on Twitter–doesn’t take the time to do even minimal research to understand how asinine this story is. Sure, these are people on both the left and right who despise public schools and consider them incompetent. But they aren’t supposed to be activist hacks.

Artificial Intelligence does note that in cases where it is not a big deal, that is, "if a child performed at a level consistent with their peers", this is really nothing but "hot air". 
We still face the huge challenge of inequity in education and it is sad that parents who should know better focus more on vanity. 


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