At a time of heightened criticism over high-stakes testing, the College Board is taking steps to rethink the anxiety-producing SAT.
This is a welcome decision and one that should better serve students in their quest to gain admission to the college of their choice. That decision is often based in large part on how well they perform on this well-known and sometimes well-feared test. If nothing else, the changes should get the conversation going on the best way to measure student preparedness for college.
The new exam will shrug off some of the additions made to the SAT over the past few years that muddied the process and confused not only students but also admissions officers, who have taken to favoring the rival ACT exam.
Students will no longer see obscure vocabulary words that no one uses in real life; the essay (added in 2005) will be optional; math questions will focus on more linear equations, functions and proportional thinking, and not all operations will require a calculator. Also ending will be the long-standing penalty for guessing wrong.
Perhaps even more noticeable is that the test will be available on paper and computer and the scoring system will return to 1,600, with top scores being 800 in math and 800 in what will now be called “evidence-based reading and writing.” The optional essay will have a separate score.
College-bound students are famously under extreme pressure to perform on the tests and in the classroom and extracurricular activities. The load can seem unbearable for young minds and the parents trying to support them in those efforts. Some parents pay dearly, enrolling their children in pre-SAT prep courses or hiring expensive tutors.
To ease that burden, the College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer free online practice problems and instructional videos showing how to solve them. And in another attempt at leveling the playing field, College Board President David Coleman announced programs to help low-income students, who will now be given fee waivers allowing them to apply to four colleges at no charge.
Coleman, hired in 2012 from his job as an architect of the Common Core curriculum standards, understands the need for fundamental change. While he probably should not have spoken for the SAT’s main rival in saying that both had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools,” he makes a valid point at least about his own company.
The Scholastic Aptitude Test, which dates back to 1926, is an important tool in college admissions. It’s good that the College Board is working to make it more relevant than it has been in years.