The real criminal is the P-S-D

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thoreau
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 08 Sep 2016, 19:47

Meanwhile, in the NYT:
And then, a month into the school year, Vanessa stumbled. She failed her first test in statistics, a prerequisite for admission to the nursing program. She was surprised at how bad it felt. Failure was not an experience she was used to. At Mesquite High, she never had to study for math tests; she aced them all without really trying. (Her senior-year G.P.A. was 3.50, placing her 39th out of 559 students in her graduating class. She got a 22 on the ACT, the equivalent of about a 1,030 on the SAT — not stellar, but above average.)
The girl is somewhat above average, but not stellar. She found high school math very easy, which tells me that on the plus side she did everything that was asked of her, and on the minus side that she was never challenged. Then she gets to college and takes a statistics class (and I will go out on a limb and guess that the intro stats class taken by nursing majors is not as hard as the one taken by statistics majors...) and stumbles. Badly. I don't really fault her. She came up through the system and was apparently conscientious about doing what was asked. But a cruel joke was played on her. Kind of like the kid whose story started this thread. She was told by her high school that she was prepared for college, the ease with which she aced the math tests given by her school seemed to confirm it, so she went and enrolled in her state's flagship. And then she learned something...

Oh, and the NYT reporter might also want to enroll in that statistics class:
The second trend is that whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make. To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t. Or to put it more statistically: About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.

When you read about those gaps, you might assume that they mostly have to do with ability. Rich kids do better on the SAT, so of course they do better in college. But ability turns out to be a relatively minor factor behind this divide. If you compare college students with the same standardized-test scores who come from different family backgrounds, you find that their educational outcomes reflect their parents’ income, not their test scores. Take students like Vanessa, who do moderately well on standardized tests — scoring between 1,000 and 1,200 out of 1,600 on the SAT. If those students come from families in the top-income quartile, they have a 2 in 3 chance of graduating with a four-year degree. If they come from families in the bottom quartile, they have just a 1 in 6 chance of making it to graduation.
You mean to tell me that when you hold one variable (nearly) constant the difference in outcomes depends (mostly) on variables that weren't held constant? NO FUCKING WAY!!!! SOMEBODY NOMINATE THIS REPORTER FOR A FIELDS MEDAL BECAUSE THEY JUST BLEW MY MIND WITH THEIR NEW STATISTICAL INSIGHTS!!!!

It may very well be that in multiple regressions one can find that test scores have almost no predictive power when parental income is held constant, at least in some settings and for some subsets of students. I'm a bit skeptical of that proposition, but I can't rule it out. What I can say is that this NYT reporter utterly failed to articulate such a case.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Mo » 08 Sep 2016, 20:30

thoreau wrote:Oh, and the NYT reporter might also want to enroll in that statistics class:
The second trend is that whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make. To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t. Or to put it more statistically: About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.

When you read about those gaps, you might assume that they mostly have to do with ability. Rich kids do better on the SAT, so of course they do better in college. But ability turns out to be a relatively minor factor behind this divide. If you compare college students with the same standardized-test scores who come from different family backgrounds, you find that their educational outcomes reflect their parents’ income, not their test scores. Take students like Vanessa, who do moderately well on standardized tests — scoring between 1,000 and 1,200 out of 1,600 on the SAT. If those students come from families in the top-income quartile, they have a 2 in 3 chance of graduating with a four-year degree. If they come from families in the bottom quartile, they have just a 1 in 6 chance of making it to graduation.
You mean to tell me that when you hold one variable (nearly) constant the difference in outcomes depends (mostly) on variables that weren't held constant? NO FUCKING WAY!!!! SOMEBODY NOMINATE THIS REPORTER FOR A FIELDS MEDAL BECAUSE THEY JUST BLEW MY MIND WITH THEIR NEW STATISTICAL INSIGHTS!!!!

It may very well be that in multiple regressions one can find that test scores have almost no predictive power when parental income is held constant, at least in some settings and for some subsets of students. I'm a bit skeptical of that proposition, but I can't rule it out. What I can say is that this NYT reporter utterly failed to articulate such a case.
Let's assume the results are significant, that's pretty massive. If we found that, after holding test scores constant, Type A blood types graduated at 4x the rate of Type O blood type people, we'd wonder what the hell was up. Though, I wonder if universities attended are similar. It could be the wealthier kids go to more expensive private schools with more hand holding or that they go to schools where they are in a higher percentile of test scores for their school.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 08 Sep 2016, 20:45

Mo wrote:Though, I wonder if universities attended are similar. It could be the wealthier kids go to more expensive private schools with more hand holding or that they go to schools where they are in a higher percentile of test scores for their school.
Some of it is surely an effect of college type, as you point out. However, the two possibilities that you toss out are actually contradictory, one pointing to benefits from "overmatching" (i.e. going to the fanciest school that you can possibly get into, because the support systems and other resources are better) and the other pointing to benefits from "undermatching" (i.e. being the biggest fish in a small pond). I think both are real effects, and both probably matter, on different margins. If a disadvantaged kid is slightly below the academic median (by whatever measure) but the school has excellent financial aid, good advising, etc., then "overmatching" is probably a net boon. OTOH, if the disadvantaged kid is way below the median, then those other resources will have be be pretty damn substantial to compensate for the gap. Likewise, being slightly above average at Nowhere State U. doesn't mean much. Being at the top of the class at Decent U., OTOH, gets you access to all sorts of opportunities that aren't always advertised.

Some of it might also be the effects of high schools: Even if two people have the same SAT scores, there are academically significant things that aren't measured (directly or indirectly) by the SAT, and poorer students with good SAT scores probably didn't get the same overall preparation at their inner-city school that a richer kid got at their private school.

Some of it is probably the usual stuff of family support (or lack thereof), financial stresses and time commitments for work or family drama, etc.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Mo » 08 Sep 2016, 21:56

A private school with more academic support can be less academically rigorous. Cal or UCLA are more rigorous than Pepperdine, but support systems will be better at Pepperdine. Poor students will likely get more points (even holding race constant), where they are more likely to overmatch academically.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 08 Sep 2016, 22:16

A so-so student would probably be better off overmatching into Pepperdine (at least on scholarship) than undermatching into UCLA. Better support systems and more likely to shine. OTOH, if a student could either undermatch into Berkeley or overmatch into UC Riverside, go Bears! The support systems will be questionable either way, but Berkeley has a better endowment so the support systems might be at least a bit better, Berkeley is way more likely to offer enough sections of freshman prereq classes (so you can get out in 4 years), and you'll be better able to find peers who are success-oriented.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 08 Sep 2016, 22:56

Some years back, there was a valedictorian at a D.C. public school (perfect 4.0 average) who got a below 700 combined SAT score.

In a just world, that kid and his parents should have been able to sue the city for fraud.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 08 Sep 2016, 23:07

D.A. Ridgely wrote:Some years back, there was a valedictorian at a D.C. public school (perfect 4.0 average) who got a below 700 combined SAT score.

In a just world, that kid and his parents should have been able to sue the city for fraud.
While there's nothing much to like about Michelle Rhee, it's 100% understandable why people would go for her when the alternative is what you describe here.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Jadagul » 09 Sep 2016, 03:26

Another significant factor is that kids from poor families often have to drop out of college for money reasons--either they can't afford college, or if they underperform a bit they lose their scholarships and so have to quit. There was zero chance I was ever going to have to drop out of college for money reasons, and thus I was much more likely to finish.

(This is on top of the school type effects you've been discussing--community colleges have the worst support and advising, and small private schools have the best. Guess who goes to which kind of school?)

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by JasonL » 09 Sep 2016, 09:25

At the end of the day I think it is just much harder to succeed academically if you grow up in an environment where academic success is not in the air. None of your friends are doing this stuff and don't care and can't understand. Parents can't relate and don't know how to help. The variable I'd like to see isolated is something like what percent of people you'd list as friends at time of HS graduation are also going to college. I think a low percentage correlates strongly to low income environments and low success.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by nicole » 09 Sep 2016, 10:14

There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way.
I feel like premising this on her being "high-achieving" is a problem. She appears to be utterly average. Why aren't these stories ever about first-gen college kids with 1500+ SATs who are first in their class?
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by JasonL » 09 Sep 2016, 10:25

Related to what I was saying, being high achieving relative to a poor median level performance in her school distorts everyone's view of what should happen. The environment of low success is not only the student but also the expectations of the school and how they come to think about success and failure. It may be unavoidable. If I were a parent super concerned about academic success and i thought my kid had some prospects there, I'd do every single thing in my power to get the kid into an environment where the median student expects to do well academically.

Shorter me: I believe in the power of tracking and grouping smart kids as a way to save them from an environment of bad habits, low expectations, and modified versions of success. I don't think a school system can save every kid or make them smart or care, but we have to create ways for poor kids who are smart to GTFO of toxic environments so they have a chance.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by nicole » 09 Sep 2016, 10:30

Yeah, but I don't know why the SAT scores weren't a red flag that in the wider world, she isn't high-achieving.

I'm still making my way through the article but it goes on to talk about more kids at UT with scores of 1,000 or less. I'm not sure why we're all supposed to act like those kids belong in college. Much less why we would consider them high achievers. You're literally average.

ETA: and she was nowhere near first in her class! I mean she's just like, some random high school kid the NYT decides to call "high-achieving." It's delusional.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 09 Sep 2016, 11:28

nicole wrote:
There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way.
I feel like premising this on her being "high-achieving" is a problem. She appears to be utterly average. Why aren't these stories ever about first-gen college kids with 1500+ SATs who are first in their class?
Because the culture demands a democratic view of talent and achievement.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by nicole » 09 Sep 2016, 11:35

thoreau wrote:
nicole wrote:
There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way.
I feel like premising this on her being "high-achieving" is a problem. She appears to be utterly average. Why aren't these stories ever about first-gen college kids with 1500+ SATs who are first in their class?
Because the culture demands a democratic view of talent and achievement.

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Isn't that kind of incoherent?
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 09 Sep 2016, 11:38

One thing people overlook when they demand democratic access to "top" schools is that it actually reinforces an undemocratic view of talent and achievement in half of the students. If you insist on democratizing access to a flagship AND you demand good graduation rates it follows that the flagship will have to take the rigor down a notch. There will, however, be a sizable number of students who will find the resulting curriculum as easy as they found high school to be. This will reinforce certain habits and fail to develop other habits. It will also do certain things to self-perception.

Ironically, if you want to achieve the egalitarian goal of taking the smarties down a notch you should cluster them together and let most of them get taken down a notch. Sure, a handful will come out with even bigger egos, but the rest will learn something that they couldn't have learned at an easier school.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Hugh Akston » 09 Sep 2016, 11:41

nicole wrote:
thoreau wrote:
nicole wrote:
There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way.
I feel like premising this on her being "high-achieving" is a problem. She appears to be utterly average. Why aren't these stories ever about first-gen college kids with 1500+ SATs who are first in their class?
Because the culture demands a democratic view of talent and achievement.

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Isn't that kind of incoherent?
No less coherent than the view that talent and achievement are measurable and quantifiable.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Warren » 09 Sep 2016, 11:43

Hugh Akston wrote:
nicole wrote:
thoreau wrote:
nicole wrote:
There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way.
I feel like premising this on her being "high-achieving" is a problem. She appears to be utterly average. Why aren't these stories ever about first-gen college kids with 1500+ SATs who are first in their class?
Because the culture demands a democratic view of talent and achievement.

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Isn't that kind of incoherent?
No less coherent than the view that talent and achievement are measurable and quantifiable.
Bwaaaa? Of course those things are measurable and quantifiable. It's called money. ;)
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by nicole » 09 Sep 2016, 12:00

Hugh Akston wrote:
nicole wrote:
thoreau wrote:
nicole wrote:
There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way.
I feel like premising this on her being "high-achieving" is a problem. She appears to be utterly average. Why aren't these stories ever about first-gen college kids with 1500+ SATs who are first in their class?
Because the culture demands a democratic view of talent and achievement.

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Isn't that kind of incoherent?
No less coherent than the view that talent and achievement are measurable and quantifiable.
I think it is less coherent than that. Part of the "talent" concept is that it is a differentiator. If everyone is equally talented, no one is talented, because talented carries the comparative notion with it.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 09 Sep 2016, 12:04

Talent is not perfectly definable (not even a more specific concept like "talent relevant to task X") nor is it perfectly measurable. But that doesn't mean that no differences are ever observable.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by tr0g » 09 Sep 2016, 12:04

Hugh Akston wrote:
nicole wrote:
thoreau wrote:
nicole wrote:
There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way.
I feel like premising this on her being "high-achieving" is a problem. She appears to be utterly average. Why aren't these stories ever about first-gen college kids with 1500+ SATs who are first in their class?
Because the culture demands a democratic view of talent and achievement.

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Isn't that kind of incoherent?
No less coherent than the view that talent and achievement are measurable and quantifiable.
I dunno about talent but achievement sure as hell is measurable and quantifiable.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by JasonL » 09 Sep 2016, 13:09

Hmm. Achievement is measurable and is what we should care about, but it is the measure at the end of a process of skills attainment, habits, grit, etc. Talent is maybe the variance among individuals in effort and time required for a given level of achievement in a given area.

To me this suggests we should start being rigorous about creating opportunities for real not dumbed down achievement throughout k-12 and vocational work such that everyone should have a realistic sense of how far they might be able to go. Nobody should be surprised in an ideal world because they would have experienced clearly a set of achievements and failures. Maybe Mary can achieve greatly in biochemistry while Bob can achieve in Nascar level auto repair. Who knows. All I know is if you lie to people by trying to deny real achievement so we can pretend something something democracy of ability, you hurt everyone involved.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 09 Sep 2016, 13:41

JasonL wrote:All I know is if you lie to people by trying to deny real achievement so we can pretend something something democracy of ability, you hurt everyone involved.
This.

Read Hofstadter.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 09 Sep 2016, 13:44

Okay, some local insight on Vanessa's plight. [I wrote some of this before reading the entire article, so I'm repeating some stuff the article correctly described.] First, the public schools in Mesquite, TX are worse than the ones in Dallas, which are worse than the ones in Richardson, where we had to pull our kids because the schools were just incredibly bad.

Second, the girl graduated in the top seven percent of her class, which made her automatically eligible for the flagship school of the Texas public university system. (The upper ten percent of any Texas public high school, no matter how fucking awful a complete hellhole of ignorance it may be, is automatically eligible for every other Texas public college and university.) But to say she was a high achiever is a sham to begin with. She was a so-so student at a school with low standards and high grade inflation.

Yes, Vanessa was in the same situation as thousands of other UT Austin's roughly 10,000 freshmen undergraduates. The school admissions system guarantees that this will be the case. Which, from one point of view, is at least distributively just. Throw them all in the ocean and see who sinks or swims. I believe Michigan used to use such a system and I suspect many mediocre state flagship schools still do. But say what you will about UT Austin, it's not a mediocre school. (Too fuckin' huge, but that's a different argument.)

Realistically, the only way any kid is going to swim in a sea of 40,000 fellow undergrads is to find smaller, supportive groups right away. Yes, she probably would have been better off at a community college, where there's probably more available support than in Austin, and tried to transfer there after her sophomore year. Aside from being cheaper (though UT Austin is cheap for Texans), it would also have removed the myriad temptations of a school with a huge Greek system, big time athletics program and situated in a town noted (notorious) for live music and hard drinking.

It's worth noting that the chemistry professor the story later describes attended the University of the South, aka Sewanee, a school with a total undergraduate class of roughly 1,500, and I'll bet it was smaller when he was a student there. It's one of the most geographically isolated colleges in the country; there's literally nothing to do there but study and, of course, party. Lots of kids drop out because they stay drunk most of their freshman year, but even the most mediocre student is going to have direct access to his professors and lots of psychological support, probably whether he wants it or not.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 09 Sep 2016, 14:43

D.A. Ridgely wrote:Second, the girl graduated in the top seven percent of her class, which made her automatically eligible for the flagship school of the Texas public university system. (The upper ten percent of any Texas public high school, no matter how fucking awful a complete hellhole of ignorance it may be, is automatically eligible for every other Texas public college and university.) But to say she was a high achiever is a sham to begin with. She was a so-so student at a school with low standards and high grade inflation.
You're right, but there's a sense in which she was in fact an achiever, of sorts, and it's worth delving into that because it helps illuminate why some of these problems exist.

She and all of her peers were put into a shitty school system. It's likely that they got precious little in the way of meaningful support, encouragement, or challenge to actually succeed by any measure besides the local yardsticks of mediocrity. But she was in the top 7% of her class, which means she must have had more drive and discipline than 93% of the people around her. That tells me that she certainly has something going for her, something that makes her very capable of being a productive, comfortable, and respected member of the middle class. I think most people would want to see some sort of path for her in some sort of higher education that leads to an opportunity for comfortable middle class employment, depending on what she does going forward in her career.

So that's the sympathy, and I think it's a sound one, because she clear has some sort of raw ability in areas that count, if she was more motivated and harder-working than 93% of the people thrown into a similarly shitty situation. Good for her. We can all wish her well and have some degree of hope for her prospects in the wider world.

The problem is that while good habits count for a lot, preparation also counts, as do raw smarts. I think it's fair to say that nobody can really know much about her raw smarts because she was never put into a setting where she could develop them. Maybe her SAT score would have been higher if she'd been in a school that better prepared her early on, and maybe the same would be true of her grades. We'll never know. Neither will anyone else. But regardless of any counterfactual about her unknown degree of raw smarts, preparation matters, so throwing her into a school that, for whatever problems it has, is hardly mediocre, was never a good idea. But it is the legally mandated consequence of Texas' top 10% admissions rules.

If you have a top 10% admissions rule you have 3 options: You treat it as an opportunity to swim while accepting that many will sink, you lower standards, or you try to thread the needle and throw as many resources as needed at people so that everyone can swim without sinking. The later is not actually feasible for 10,000 freshmen--even if the Gates Foundation showered them with enough cash to build a new military plane, the nature of people and organizations is such that small, supportive programs operate differently when you go from 100 people to 10,000 people. Consequently, programs like the ones in the article are--all party lines notwithstanding--boutiques that will be well-photographed but never scaled.

It's all because it is politically unacceptable to admit certain things about the heterogeneity of academic talent, academic preparation, and academic accomplishment.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 09 Sep 2016, 15:06

Mmmm, well, I know the SATs are different than in my day, but I got genuinely shitty (of the "who gives a fuck?" variety) grades in high school in non-AP classes (which I wasn't allowed to take because of my shitty attitude and shitty grades which were in significant measure the result of being put in boring classes) and got + 1500 combined SAT scores (790 verbal, 730 math, if I recall). And I think I was hung over that morning, too.

Point being, that throughout most of its history, the SATs tracked general IQ tests pretty closely. Yeah, you had to have some basic knowledge and coming from a deprived environment (which, looking only at my home, I was) was a disadvantage, etc., etc. But no matter how they fudge the concept of aptitude by calling it assessment or whatever, if you got below 1100 combined on your SAT and, you know, didn't bother to retake it because you thought that was good enough, I think we do have a pretty good read on how smart you are.

Which in this kid's case doesn't mean she isn't smart enough to become an R.N. She's probably smart enough to have passed that statistics course because, as you said, it almost certainly wasn't statistics for math and science majors. But she probably also shouldn't have gone to UT Austin just as she shouldn't have gone to Cal had she been a Californian. There are lots of okay schools for prospective nurses to go to; there were enough warning signs (including the fact that she was surrounded by mediocrity or worse throughout school) that she should have been able to figure out that she wasn't ready for the most academically rigorous program she could get admitted to.

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