With last month's news that the College Board will once again be redesigning the SAT, much of the commentary about the topic has focused on what the new test will look like.
Yet, instead of focusing on how the SAT will change, the more appropriate questions we all should be asking are:
1. Why does the SAT keep changing?
2. What does all this change say about the makers of the test and the value of the test itself?
3. How can one avoid getting caught up in the whole College Board generated hysteria that such changes will certainly set into motion?
Sadly, long ago the SAT ceased to test one's aptitude, as evidenced by the College Board’s own decision to change the name of the test from the Standardized Aptitude Test to the Standardized Assessment Test. Then they changed it again to what it’s called today: simply SAT, which the makers say stand for nothing other than SAT. The name change is symbolic of the hollowing out of the whole purpose of the test.
For instance, the SAT cut out important content like analogies, and replaced them with fill in your own response math questions and a timed persuasive essay. While analogies were never much loved by anyone, replacing such important reasoning questions with essay questions that are meant to assess someone’s writing style on deadline hardly seemed worth it. Colleges that care about writing already ask for students to take the time to compose thoughtful essays for their college applications. Timed essays are extremely difficult for many individuals to put together and are not a strong indicator of anything other than how fast one can organize his or her thoughts eloquently. Analogies more appropriately assessed someone’s basic reasoning skills and vocabulary knowledge, both of which are far better judges of whether or not a student will succeed in college. So, the bottom line answer to question #1: The SAT keeps changing because its makers have lost focus of the test’s original and grounded mission and instead traded it in for focus group tested mush that doesn’t offend anyone but takes four miserable hours to complete.
This leads us to the answer to question #2: The College Board is no longer an organization that is out to assess student aptitude or fitness for college; it is a smokescreen for a college-themed money making operation. College admissions standards have been so watered down because America’s secondary school teach so little of substance that the College Board was simply lowing it standards with the times. Now, the College Board really doesn’t have much in the way of standards left, but wants to make everyone believe it does, so what does it do? It makes the test longer and more complex to prepare for while also watering down its difficulty or relationship to assessing important skill mastery. It’s like when Facebook changes its entire site design in order to drive more traffic to the site and keep visitors on the site for a longer period of time: it doesn’t make Facebook better, it’s only a scheme in order to create an artificial bump in attention to the site. College Board’s way-too-often redesigns of the SAT scream desperation in exactly the same way as Facebook redesigns indicate people getting bored with Facebook and Facebook trying to lure them back by making visiting the site novel again. Yet, all the while, the SAT can’t really be anything near the test it once was because so many interest groups have criticized it for being sexist, racist, etc. that it watered down all the content to be nothing more than an exercise in proving if one is capable of being a good little hamster in a wheel who memorizes little tricks expensive tutors and SAT guide books are in the business of selling. This mirrors how America’s public schools have turned into little more than mills of memorization and regurgitation. College Board was simply changing with the times. Long ago, high standards were thrown out the window for mushy reading passages and interest group approved nonsense. The College Board cares almost exclusively about the incessant promotion of “diversity” and “equity” (just like the vast majority of colleges these days). What ever happened to assessing student aptitude or readiness for higher-level critical thinking and learning? In a world where only twenty percent of New York City high school graduates can even read, it made smart business sense for the College Board to do away with standards and instead focus on joining the increasing number of “leaders within the educational community” who are as vapid as their standards are non existent.
Yet, when there is competition in the market place, in this case from the ACT, which now has more adherents than the SAT, those who crave a test that seems to be confident in its purpose will gravitate towards that test. The ACT has not tried to reinvent itself nearly as often or dramatically as the SAT. The ACT is a far more straightforward test, and now that the cat is out of the bag regarding the SAT’s identity crisis more students and parents are voting for it with their feet by their choice of taking and paying for the ACT instead of the SAT and the industry that surrounds the SAT.
This brings us to the answer to question #3: forget the SAT until the SAT stands for something other than itself. If it starts raising the bar instead of simply making the bar more difficult to find, then I will be more than willing to pay attention to the SAT again. Until that time, take the ACT.
If you still choose to take the SAT, take the ACT too, then compare how you do on one test to how you do on the other by using the valuable conversion tool ConvertYourScore.org. Thoughtful, hard-working, and earnest students often do better on the ACT than they do on the SAT. Students who can navigate trick questions and who have endured and devoted a great deal of time to intensive tutoring/test-prep often do better on the SAT.
ConvertYourScore.org allows users to definitively determine which test they did best on – ensuring that students only send to colleges the scores that put them in the best light in the eyes of admissions officers. At the end of the day, this, not the constant machinations of the College Board and the SAT, should be the focus of high school students looking ahead towards college.