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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New SAT, New Questions, New Issues

In recent weeks, The College Board has made national headlines over their decision to revamp the SAT, the score that is perhaps the most important number on a college application besides the hallowed Grade Point Average. The College Board has lowered the top possible score to 1600, down from 2400, heavily revising what the old three sections contained...

The essay that asked students to form arguments based on previous life experiences? Gone; replaced with one that asks students to dissect and analyze historically significant documents, such as the Gettysburg Address.

The vocabulary section filled with words that birthed a category of terms known as ‘SAT words’- also gone. It’s been replaced with vocab words that are more ‘collegial’ such as ‘intense’, and ‘vacate’. The idea here is that high school students will be better equipped for college by studying words that are more likely to appear in college. On the old test, students put themselves through grueling rote memorization. Utilitarian thinkers argue that since there is hardly any use for these words in the English language, (Examples: Obsequious, unscrupulous) students derive no lasting benefit from cramming for this section of the test. The motive behind this decision makes sense.

The biggest changes from the old SAT to the new one are in the mathematics section. The way in which the College Board revamped the math section has the potential to temporarily expand the inequality gap. As an article in ‘The Atlantic’ pointed out, the new math questions will rely on students’ ability to read graphs, analyze data, and recall prior knowledge from the classroom. “The new SAT will focus on fewer types of math than the current version does, sacrificing breadth for depth and testing students on the material the College Board believes to be most essential to ‘college and career success.’

In short, the College Board is redesigning the test so that it more closely aligns with Common Core Standards, a nationwide initiative that is meant to act as a guideline about what to teach and how. Only time will tell whether aligning the SAT with the Common Core Standards is a good idea. But at the present time, this move seems to have the potential to negatively impact students in lower-income areas.

The new SAT relies on information that students learn in high school, where the old SAT relied more heavily on intuition and closely resembled an IQ test. The old SAT did a good job of identifying gifted students that might not have had as much opportunity to succeed as other students. From what it sounds like, this new SAT will only reinforce what students learn in school. In other words, if a student doesn’t go to a “good” school or learns from a teacher who is inexperienced or unfamiliar with teaching the Common Core Standards, the student’s SAT scores will reflect this discrepancy.

From the Center’s perspective, whether the reformation will be successful requires a wait-and-see approach. The SAT’s purpose is unique in that it is supposed to serve as an indicator of a students’ intelligence, regardless of geographic background or income-level. At first glance, the ‘new-and-improved’ SAT will only serve as a reflection of students’ teachers and learning environments. The distinction is subtle, but substantial.

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