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SAT Revisions Provoke Strong Response

In March 2014, the College Board announced a redesign of the SAT exam. Changes include an emphasis on citing evidence to support answers and coverage of fewer math topics. The essay section will now be optional, and student will get credit for correct answers, without penalty for incorrect ones. The test will shift from its current 2400-point score scale and return to the original 1600-point scale. And while this is not an explicitly stated goal of the redesign, the new test will better align with Common Core state standards.  

In terms of math, the revamped SAT will focus on three key areas: (1) problem-solving and data analysis in science, social science and career contexts, (2) linear equations and systems and (3) more-complex equations.

In the “evidence-based reading and writing” section, the College board said, “Students will be asked to support answers by citing material in a passage and source documents from a range of disciplines, from science to social studies.” In addition, a revised vocabulary section will emphasize language that students might actually use in college or the workplace.  

Said College Board President and CEO David Coleman, “We hope [students] breathe a sigh of relief that this exam will be focused, useful, open, clear and aligned with the work [they] will do throughout high school.”

Acknowledging that students who can afford test-prep services may gain an advantage, the College Board also is attempting to level the playing field via free online SAT-prep materials available on Khan Academy. Students will be able to access questions from past exams, videos with step-by-step solutions, and game-based instruction that can help them monitor their progress.

These changes follow a decline in the number of students who choose to take the SAT, rather than the college-entrance rival ACT. Within the class of 2013, 1.8 million students took the ACT, while 1.7 million took the SAT. Many perceive that the ACT is a more student-friendly exam, although test critic Bob Schaeffer contends that “it is neither a better nor fairer predictor of college performance.” Incidentally, ACT, Inc. also will be better aligning its exam with the Common Core standards.

Both the SAT and ACT face opposition from the “test-optional” movement; about 800 colleges and universities currently admit a substantial number of undergraduates without requiring scores on these exams.


Reactions to the SAT changes vary widely

Responses to the College Board's announced changes have varied, representing both sides of a long-standing debate. For example, on nytimes.com, several readers applauded the College Board’s changes, or reaffirmed their perceptions of the exam’s usefulness:

Blue Slate said, “I like these changes. They test relevant material (science, history, analytical thinking) in useful ways, don’t seem to ‘dumb down’ the tests, and may eliminate some of the students’ feelings of the test’s subjectiveness, and some of the anxiety that pervades the present composition of the SAT.”

Pierre B commented, “As a current college student, I think the hatred toward the SAT is for the most part unwarranted. Many commenters here underestimate how much grade inflation now exists at the secondary level. Should the test be blasted because many of its questions are too challenging for some students? No, instead we should focus on improving secondary education, so that all students can read and write at a basic level.”

Mark R added, “Every year or two, the media starts braying about some new reason to discard the standardized testing regime and rely solely on grades and essays for admittance. Every time, many uninformed members of the public express their enthusiastic support. Every time, the College Board tinkers pointlessly with the SAT to make it somehow ‘fairer.’ And every time, colleges continue to use the SAT for the same reason—it is a vital tool and it works.”

Pam said, “I’ve tutored SAT/ACT for the last 4 years, and let’s be honest here. The reason they’re changing the SAT is because more students are moving to the ACT because as a whole, it’s an easier test. The reason I like the SAT now is because it’s a critical thinking test—and the reason so many students struggle with it is because they dumb down learning in schools rather than attempt the much more difficult task of teaching critical thinking skills.”


Others, however, strongly disagreed with the SAT revisions and even questioned the value of the exam:

Reader phsimpson took a humorous tack: “Perhaps rather than eliminating essays, the College Board needs a new question: ‘Giving the overwhelming evidence that academic performance in high school is a far superior predictor of college success than any information provided by standardized testing, defend the continued use of the SAT in college admissions.’ Applicants with responses considered exceptionally well argued could be rewarded with Educational Testing Services-funded scholarships.”

Marian said she “would change the SAT by getting rid of it altogether. The test is obsolete. The time spent prepping for it and taking it would be better spent for the students if they just utilized that time to simply learn. Poor students and students with disabilities are put at great disadvantage for college admissions by the SAT.”

Humanities professor Anne Russell agreed. “If I had my way, I'd entirely do away with SAT and base college admission on grades and a personal interview with admissions counselor, consisting of writing a one-page essay on assigned subject, and a brief oral interview.”

Horace Dewey added, “Sorry, College Board, good try. You’ve had decades to create instruments truly connected to learning and inquiry—instruments that do more than kill aspirations and make sure that high school students are ready to use [the word] ‘depreciatory.’ Leave the stage. And take your test with you.”

 

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