The College Board in charge of the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test) announced on Wednesday March 5, 2014 that they are redesigning the exam for the spring of 2016 to give all students an "equal opportunity" to do well on the exam and go to college. The board is making the exam shorter, eliminating the essay, reverting back to the 1600 top score scale and applying it more to the high school curriculum in attempt to make the exam fairer for all socio-economic groups. This the first time the SAT has been redesigned in nearly a decade, in 2005 when many of the aspects that are being eradicated were first instituted.
The President of the College Board David Coleman announced the changes to the press at an event in Austin, Texas on March 5, saying; "While we build on the best of the past, we commit today that the redesigned SAT will be more focused and useful, more clear and open than ever before. The real advance is to make an SAT that openly rewards the best of high school work and that invites far more productive preparation on the part of students and teachers."
The changes will make the SAT more competitive to the rival ACT exam, which includes bringing exam taking to the digital age. Like the ACT is commencing in 2015, the SAT will be available in paper and digital formats starting 2016. With the digital format, students will get the scores immediately relieving some of the pressure of waiting for results.
More recently more students took the ACT rather than the SAT and the College Board aims to reverse that process. Last year 1.7 million students took the SAT, while 1.8 million took the ACT, mostly students from the Midwest and South.
One of the reason for the exam redesign is the problems with recent test score results. According to USA Today; "only 43% of the high school class of 2013 scored high enough to succeed in college." Coleman stated; "It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools…. Research will guide our efforts to enhance the work students already do in their classes in grades 6-12. And that research shows that mastery of fewer, more important things matters more than the superficial coverage of many."
Some universities no longer consider standardized tests a predictor of college success, and have eliminated it as an admission requirement. Still 80 percent of universities including the top colleges and Ivy League require the SAT or ACT. The National Association for College Admission Counseling released in January the annual report the "State of College Admission" for 2013, which concluded "that students' grades and the academic rigor of their course loads weigh more heavily in decisions to admit than standardized test scores, high school class rank, or demonstrated interest in attending."
Coleman addressed this disparity problem between the exam and curriculum, recounting; "Admissions officers and counselors have said they find the data from admissions exams useful, but are concerned that these exams have become disconnected from the work of high school classrooms and surrounded by costly test preparation."
The College Board President believes "It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming, but the challenging learning students do every day." Coleman joined the College Board as its president in 2012, and set out to revise the SAT and make it more relevant to both the high school curriculum and as predictor of college success, even enlisting the advice of Les Perelman, the director of writing at MIT, who publicly criticized the essay section of the exam.
The revamp is also aimed at "leveling the playing field" giving an equality opportunity to those with lower incomes or minorities that might not have the extensive SAT preparatory options those from the upper income brackets have available to them. Coleman addressed this issue; "It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country. It may not be our fault, but it is our problem."
Colman continued and discussed the problems with exam preparation; "And we've also been listening to students and their families for whom these tests are often mysterious and filled with unproductive anxiety. They are skeptical that either the SAT or the ACT allows them to show their best work. And too many feel that the prevalence of test prep and expensive coaching reinforces privilege rather than merit."
The College Board president announced that the board will be doing more to give low-income students opportunities. He was echoing President Barack Obama's call for economic opportunity, which includes an education component aimed at increasing the number low income students that can go to college. Coleman explained; "What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities. The real news today is not just the redesigned SAT, but the College Board's renewed commitment to delivering opportunity."
The College Board also announced that is offering fee-waivers for four university applications to low-income students that are eligible. The board already provides waivers for students to take the SAT. Coleman recounted; "We can cut through so much red tape and hesitation by giving students the admission fee waivers they need, information they understand and the encouragement they need to apply more broadly. This is only possible through the support and generosity of our member colleges."
Additionally, the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for students that cannot afford the extensive test prep books, materials, tutors and courses those in higher income bracket take advantage to prepare for the exam.
The founder and executive director of Khan Academy Sal Khan expressed about their collaboration with the College Board; "For too long, there's been a well-known imbalance between students who could afford test-prep courses and those who couldn't. We're thrilled to collaborate closely with the College Board to level the playing field by making truly world-class test-prep materials freely available to all students."
Part of the plans is to make "interactive software" available for free for "deep practice." Immediately Khan Academy is providing "hundreds of previously unreleased practice problems from actual SAT exams, accompanied by more than 200 videos that show how to solve the problems step-by-step."
Among the major changes to the SAT for 2016:
The exam will now be scored again on a 1600 scale as it was always. Only since 2005 has the top score been 2400. Now with the essay component is being made optional, the scoring will go back to 1600 based on two sections; verbal and math, each scoring between 200 and 800.
Since 2005 an essay component was made mandatory, but it now it will be optional, with an extra 50 minute time period, and a separate score. As a result the main exam will be shorter three hours plus the 50 minute essay as opposed to a mandatory three hour and 45 minute exam.
Also relating to scoring, there will no longer be penalties for wrong answers, which dissuaded students from guessing answers they were unfamiliar with. Previously a quarter-point was deducted for each wrong answer. from 2016 only right answers will be tabulated.
The newly redesigned essay component will require students to "analyze a source." The purpose is to "measure students' ability to analyze evidence and explain how an author builds an argument to persuade an audience." The previous essay section involved students "responding to a statement" using "their own experiences," which resulted in generic essays that students often memorized and prepared prior to the exam and did not represent college readiness. Analyzing arguments, theses and evidence are key elements of college work and assignments.
The verbal section will also be getting easier and more relevant; there will not be any more questions about "obscure" vocabulary. The words will represent those "widely used in college and career." However, the vocabulary will consist of words with "multiple" and "complex" definitions.
The verbal section is renamed as the "evidence-based reading and writing section." According to the College Board; "Students will be asked to support answers with evidence, including questions that require them to cite a specific part of a passage to support their answer choice."
In the verbal, reading section students will be require to evaluate and analyze important documents from "literature and literary non-fiction, science, history and social studies." Part of the analysis will be to put the "text and data in real world contexts." Coleman explained the purpose is to ensure that "No longer will it be good enough to focus on tricks and trying to eliminate answer choices. We are not interested in students just picking an answer, but justifying their answers."
There will also be at least one well known "milestone" document or speech from American history, which is either a "Founding Document" or one that "inspired" a "Great Global Conversation." This is an effort to assess students on elements of the regular high school curriculum.
The math section is getting a makeover as well to make to more representative of the high school curriculum. The math section will assess three subtopics; "problem solving and data analysis," which includes "ratios, percentages and proportions," "heart of algebra," which will consist of linear equations, and calculus called "passport to advanced math," which will include "complex equations or functions."
Unlike the past students will not be allowed to use calculators for the entire math section, in one area students are going to have to calculate the answers themselves, the College Board states that it "allows greater assessment of students' understanding, fluency, and technique."
Coleman's announcement was the first step in unveiling the newly redesign SAT exam, on April 16, 2014 the College Board will release "specifications" of the exam, and sample exam and questions. After that they will continue to present updates about the redesign on a "new microsite": http://deliveringopportunity.org
Coleman concluded with a message to the students; "we hope you breathe a sigh of relief that this exam will be focused, useful, open, clear, and aligned with the work you will do throughout high school."
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are academic & universities news, particularly history & library news.