Editor’s Note: The College Board recently announced plans to rework the SAT, the high-stakes, high-pressure test used in college admissions. We asked local high-school leaders what they make of the changes.

 

Eugene A. Bratek

Eugene A. Bratek

When David Coleman, president of the College Board, announced recently a significant rethinking of the SAT, he was trying to address some major criticisms of the test.

One critic coached students to score higher on the writing portion by telling them that factual accuracy didn’t matter and that they should try to work in seldom-used words like “plethora.” His analysis of the writing sample revealed that length, more than any other factor, correlated with high scores on this portion of the test. Fifteen of 16 students he coached scored higher than the 90th percentile.

Clearly, coaching appeared to result in higher scores. The fact that coaching can result in higher scores on the SAT indicates that this is not a level playing field.

Coleman also believes the test has become “disconnected from the work of our high schools.” So, some changes include avoiding arcane “SAT words,” such as “depreciatory,” in favor of words more likely to be encountered in high school classrooms, like “synthesis.”

The essay will be optional; points will not be deducted for incorrect answers, and there will be a return to a 1,600-point scale. Calculators also will be permitted for a portion of the math exam. Every exam will include a reading passage from the nation’s founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence.

All of these changes, and others, are scheduled to be introduced in the spring of 2016. It remains to be seen if these changes will make the SAT a more meaningful metric for admissions offices.

A recent study reviewed 33 colleges and universities that did not require SAT or ACT scores and found no significant differences in college grades or graduation rates between those who had submitted tests and those who had not. Students with good high school grades did well in college, even with weak SAT scores. And some students with weak high school grades, even with strong SAT scores, did poorly in college.

Despite all this fanfare about the changes in the SAT, perhaps colleged in the future will care less about SAT scores as criteria for admission. In my opinion, this would be a step in the right direction.

Eugene A. Bratek is headmaster of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.

 

Lindsey Dean

Lindsey Dean

Let’s be honest: College Board is a business. On the SAT alone, they bring in over $87 million. When you include their AP program (at $89 per test, per student) and their PSAT testing, you see why it’s important to their business structure that people don’t lose confidence in their results.

Perhaps when colleges first began offering an admissions process that did not consider the SAT, the College Board shrugged. However, when highly selective colleges entered the mix, it became harder to rely on the “way things have always been done.”

Enter David Coleman – a man who has spent his entire professional life in assessment, and is credited with being a lead writer on the Common Core Standards that are making their way to a school near you.

College Board’s own data was screaming loudly that the results were not indicative of student readiness – in fact, they were much more correlated to something that businesses tend to seek: higher incomes. In a country that touts equal opportunity and access, one of the major factors in differentiating college applicants is failing us.

However, colleges continue to use a tool that doesn’t necessarily provide a “nationally standardized perspective.” Why? Beyond the testing business lies a much more covert industry: college rankings. Colleges will sing their own praises when rankings are good and then downplay their validity if rankings are low. Until we start believing in college as more than a Top 10 list, College Board (and ACT) will continue to sink their teeth into our students.

Except for the few students with excellent counseling at their school, those without means will still fall in the percentiles, and further from college access.

Coleman’s changes aren’t going to hurt anyone. They will likely cause a boom for the test prep industry, as people clamor to be “ahead of the game.” But ultimately, the SAT will be as relevant as we, the consumers, make it. Colleges will continue to chase rankings as long as we use them for choosing our students’ “best fit.” And students will continue to agonize over a three-hour exam as if their entire future depends on the correct answer to a multiple choice question.

Yet, if you can teach them how life actually is a series of multiple choice questions (lasting much longer than three hours), then you have truly aced the test.

Lindsey Dean is the director of college counseling for Holy Spirit Preparatory School.

 

Ann Fountain

Ann Fountain

When College Board President David Coleman announced major changes for the 2016 SAT, the standardized testing giant’s decision struck many as a step in the right direction.

The new SAT will pare math questions to those focused on real-life situations and a narrower set of core skills. It will drop obscure vocabulary words, opting instead to test understanding of words more commonly used in college. Points will no longer be deducted for incorrect answers, eliminating the “guessing penalty.” The essay section will become optional, and will be dramatically redesigned. Select sites will offer computerized tests.

What do these changes mean to our students at The Galloway School? In some ways, it will be business as usual. The fundamental skills that our students are learning have always served our students well on standardized tests, in college, and beyond. We have never been a school that “teaches to the test.”

On a practical level, however, there are questions that I am grappling with as a college counselor. When will the PSAT, which serves as a “practice” SAT for our 10th and 11th graders, adopt these changes? Should we skip next year’s PSAT for 10th graders, who will take the new SAT in 2016?

There are other questions, too. Will the computerized tests be an attractive option for students, or should they opt to stick with the paper test? Will universities utilize (require?) the re-tooled and now-optional essay section?

The stakes remain high. Anxiety abounds. Test prep companies have already begun advertising their ability to prepare students for the new SAT.

Our only option at the moment is to take a wait-and-see approach. There’s much still to be determined.

Ann Fountain is associate director of college counseling at The Galloway School.

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