SAT changes even out playing field

Published: March 12 2014 | 9:42 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:29 am in

The College Board, which administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the once pre-eminent college entrance exam, has announced several major changes to the exam and the way it is scored. Which of the following statements describes its motivation?

A. It’s a crafty move to shore up flagging market share. The rival ACT has overtaken the SAT in number of test-takers in recent years.

B. It is trying to align with the Common Core set of curriculum standards, adopted in all but a few states, which is changing education as we’ve known it.

C. The College Board finally is acknowledging that their test is being gamed by well-off parents who pay nearly $1 billion every year to give their children a better chance at college admission, and that is not really fair.

D. The SAT needs to do a better job of assessing how well students can think, reason and solve problems.

E. A, B, C and D are correct.

If you answered E, congratulations. You don’t have to take the essay portion of this test.

This move by the College Board is unambiguously a step in the right direction. The changes to the test, which will affect students in spring 2016, indicate a broader understanding of the challenges and needs of American education today and going forward. The question is whether any test can accurately test college readiness without penalizing poorer students.

Gone is the essay portion of the test, unless a student wishes to take that portion as an extra. No longer are points taken away for wrong answers, which led to students weighing which questions were skipped instead of plowing forward on the timed test. Calculators will be allowed only on parts of the test, not throughout.

Unusual words like “sagacious,” not likely to be found in most college studies, have been culled; other 50-cent words, like “synthesis,” which students will encounter in their studies, will remain. The test will seek to more closely match the knowledge sets that students in virtually every state in the nation will be studying.

And for low-income students, fee waivers to college application fees will be available. In addition, free online tutorials will be available to help guide students studying for the big exam.

Again, these changes will help to level what has been a tilted playing field.

Predicting human potential has never been what you would call a science. But college admissions tests have long proclaimed to be just that: impartial, statistical tools to help discern the best prepared students from a stack of

applicants.

Not surprisingly, however, an industry grew around the tests, promising an edge to the student who ponied up for pricey tutorials. Also not surprisingly, higher scores on the SAT began to increasingly correlate with income. It became hard to ignore that too many high scorers were gaining their edge, and perhaps their seat in the freshman class, by virtue of their parent’s wealth rather than their own hard work in school.

Here is how College Board President David Coleman framed it in interviews after the changes were announced, “These patterns of access, if allowed to continue, will build an iron wall of inequality into the next generation.”

 

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