SAT will be changed — again

In criticizing its own test and the ACT as being disconnected from what high school students are learning in school, the College Board announced extensive changes to its SAT coming in the spring of 2016.

  • The maximum score will be 1600 again, not 2400
  • 800 points on the math, 800 points on “evidence-based reading and writing”
  • A calculator will only be allowed on certain sections of the math test
  • The vocabulary words will be closer to those used in college classrooms
  • The penalty for incorrect answers will be removed
  • The optional essay will use a reading passage; students will analyze
    • the ways the author used evidence and reasoning
    • stylistic elements
  • Math will focus on the three areas of
    • linear equations
    • complex equations or functions
    • ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning

College Board President David Coleman also said the nonprofit would work with another nonprofit that is no stranger to these pages: the Khan Academy, launched several years ago by the incomparable Salman Khan as a site that featured video lessons in everything from place value to Pythagoras, from money to the mortgage crisis. It has grown into a site that offers students free practice in a wide range of subjects, and now one of those subjects will be the SAT.

Mr Coleman—and probably Mr Khan as well—have been disappointed by the quality of test prep programs that often promote themselves as holding the key to college for every kid and carry huge price tags. I’m quite sure the Khan Academy will put every single SAT test prep carpetbagger out of business within the first year, and that is as it should be. Parents of rich kids won’t get ripped off; parents of poor kids can help their kids perform at their best on the SAT.

“The College Board cannot stand by while some test-prep providers intimidate parents at all levels of income into the belief that the only way they can secure their child’s success is to pay for costly test preparation and coaching,” Mr Coleman said in a speech Wednesday in Austin, Texas. “If we believe that assessment must be a force for equity and excellence, it’s time to shake things up.”

The SAT has been used increasingly by recruiters for job placement, the Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks ago. The College Board has never made any claims about the exam’s use in recruiting, holding all along that it’s designed mainly to predict success in a student’s first year of college. As such, the College Board hasn’t really investigated any other use of the test. “It is a little confounding how a test somebody took when they were 17 predicts success in a competitive workplace when they’re 22,” the Journal quoted Kevin Monahan, a career-services dean at Carnegie Mellon University, as saying about the practice.

Yes, the Common Core found a way into the SAT

As Mr Coleman was a key player in the development of the Common Core standards, it might be expected that the new SAT design would look a little like the tests coming from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). And that’s exactly the case, as the New York Times reports:

Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

The question type where students highlight text from a passage that supports a multiple-choice answer is very similar to several items on the PARCC tests. As for including passage-based support in discussions, it’s true that high school students have been doing that since before standardized tests made news headlines, but the Common Core has focused on passage-based support for points of argument more than standardized tests have done in the past.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.

2 Comments on "SAT will be changed — again"

  1. An op-ed in today’s New York Times says the best way to change the SAT — “a mind-numbing, stress-inducing ritual of torture” — would be to eliminate it.

    English Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan writes: “I sympathize with college-admissions deans who want a simple, accurate measurement of student potential. But no such measurement exists.”

    Never was a truer thing said about a test!

    She continues, “The only way to measure students’ potential is to look at the complex portrait of their lives: what their schools are like; how they’ve done in their courses; what they’ve chosen to study; what progress they’ve made over time; how they’ve reacted to adversity. Of course colleges try to take these nuanced portraits into account, but too often they’re overshadowed by the SAT. Our children, precious, brilliant, frustrating, confused souls that they are, are more than a set of scores.”

    Ms Finney Boylan’s is also a gripping tale about a weeping girl with an amazing French braid. Check it out!

  2. An article in today’s New York Times Magazine explains the idea of employers using SAT scores as one data point in assessing a job candidate. The authors mention that Google pronounced the exams worthless in discriminating among the very top rung of job applicants to the tech giant:

    “Today the SAT is actually too easy, and that’s why Google doesn’t see a correlation,” the paper quoted Jonathan Wai, a research scientist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program, as saying. “Every single person they get through the door is a super-high scorer.”

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