educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

A new, redesigned SAT is on the way

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Part 7 (of 874) in an occasional series about how standardized tests are destroying education.

The SAT is going through a redesign. For those of you who mentally autofilled the start of the previous statement with “The SAT is going … away,” I’m sorry to disappoint you. It’s not going away. It’s going through changes that will do/attempt to do a variety of things. But the SAT will still be around. There’s been an active dialogue, as you might expect, about this redesign.

As The New York Times reported, the president of the College Board, David Coleman, criticized both the SAT (the College Board’s test), and rival test the ACT, saying both had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” (It may surprise you to know that according to the article, more students now take the ACT than the SAT; I don’t know that that’s what you’d call progress.) An Education Week article, College Board Outlines SAT Redesign It Says Will Be More ‘Focused and Useful,’” summarizes the changes:

The new SAT will be three hours long, with an optional essay of 50 minutes. (The test now is three hours and 45 minutes, including the essay.) There will be three sections: “evidenced-based reading and writing,” math, and the optional essay. Without the required essay, the SAT will return to a 1600-point scale.

Coleman said perhaps the most important change for students is that the College Board will remove the previous penalty for wrong answers and go to a simpler, transparent model of giving students points for the questions they answer correctly. The College Board has conducted research to ensure this change will not differentially affect any groups of students over others, according to […] the College Board.

“The real advance is to make an SAT that openly rewards the best of high school work and that invites far more productive participation on the part of students and teachers,” said Coleman.

The exam will also be offered in digital form at selected sites in states that have adopted the SAT. Officials don’t know what percentage of students will opt to take the test on a computer.

In one of those astonishing mysteries of the world, almost no one who knows anything about education or writing thinks the SAT is a good idea. The Chronicle of Higher Ed, on March 14, discussed the “mixed reviews” the new SAT is getting, although I’m not sure how really “mixed” they are. People continue to say it doesn’t provide much predictive power for college success and that, as Nancy Leopold, executive director of CollegeTracks, said, it “has been demonstrated to systematically understate the abilities of low-income and underserved minority students.” The Chronicle article reports the College Board will link up with Khan Academy (a big provider of open learning content) to provide “free online test preparation.” Some people are liking that idea.

But otherwise, folks are mainly in angrily-lashing-out, debunking, or warning mode. The blog The Becoming Radical says in “SAT Reboot 2016: ‘Nonsense It All Is’” that (and these are points reiterated from previous posts) “The College Board itself cautions against using the SAT for any comparative purposes”; “The College Board’s own research repeatedly confirms that SAT scores are less predictive of freshman college success than GPA”; and that “SAT scores historically and currently are most strongly correlated with parental income and level of education for parent.” Of this third major revision to the SAT?: “The first two times, we mostly just walked in and sat right back at the table that was not really different at all except for the table cloth.”

In a piece in The Washington Post,Five myths about the SAT,” Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, who was vice president of the Educational Testing Service from 1996 to 2003, describes these five myths (this article is worth clicking over to for a full reading):

Myth 1: The SAT is the best measure we have for assessing if a student is ready for — and can succeed in — college.
Myth 2: The SAT has helped establish a national meritocracy. [He notes the SAT was originally adopted by “Harvard and other colleges” – boy does that fit, for so many reasons.]
Myth 3: Test-prep courses substantially improve scores.
Myth 4: The SAT can predict career success.
Myth 5: The changes planned for 2016 will bring a 20th-century test into the 21st century.

Carnevale ends, in my view, on a mixed note, touting the Common Core, but his main point is salient: “Why should we rely on an imperfect proxy of ‘aptitude’ when other metrics, such as the Common Core subject tests, can tell us the real gaps in students’ understanding?”

In a USA Today op-ed, Bob Schaeffer even critiques the Khan Academy test-prep partnerships. It, “sounds great,” he says, but “free SAT training materials already exist from Khan and others. Offering more videos will not slow the stampede of well-to-do parents toward $1,200 SAT workshops or $500-an-hour personal tutoring for their children.” In sum, Schaeffer says,  “None of these changes enhances the exam’s assessment quality. The new SAT is a different test, not an improved one.”

It seems most people who think about it and aren’t making money from standardized testing — and perhaps even some who do — wonder why we should offer a new version of something that fundamentally doesn’t work. When will colleges just say no? — wait, 850 colleges already do not require SAT or ACT scores. What’s everyone else waiting for?

Next time I’ll look at comments about the new optional writing section, which replaces the required SAT essay that was introduced in 2005.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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5 Responses to “A new, redesigned SAT is on the way”

  1. F’higher ed. Plumbing, heating and air conditioning. It’s that simple. That’s where the jobs are, the rest of the world doesn’t have a lot of HVAC. So when you become the grand master of HVAC we can outsource you and your expertise. This is it people don’t blow 60K a year so Johnny can learn to drink and pull down skirts. Get em up early and work hard on the job and go to school at night tech-school votech. 4 years of hard work and you have yourself a vocation and a life. After you establish yourself put some loot away go travel the world and do some real learning.

  2. I’m not even going to read the article since I read Andy’s comments first. I can guess what the article says from a professor’s point of view.

  3. What Andy said.

  4. I’ll get on the bandwagon with Andy with small additions:

    1)HVAC and senior assisted living care.

    2) College seems to be the right way to go if you want to assess how 18-22 year-olds feel about viewing and assessing the merits of pornography…in a class…for credit. No kidding.

  5. But Andy needs higher ed as much as anyone. Without it, hard work would just be work, real learning would just be learning (and hot air would just be air?)…

    And wait until you see what the HVAC Aptitude Test ends up looking like.

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