College Board Previews Revisions To SAT

The upcoming changes that were announced on Wednesday by the College Board will affect more than a million college-bound, high school students. It's the second major revision in nine years.

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The College Board made a big announcement yesterday. It is overhauling the SAT. This is the second major revision of the widely used college entrance exam in nine years. Changes to the test will affect over a million college-bound high school students.

And as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, parts of the new SAT are going to be quite different.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: David Coleman, president of the College Board, which administers the SAT, says the biggest change will be obvious.

DAVID COLEMAN: We will return to the 1,600 scale for the overall score.

SANCHEZ: Speaking at a news conference, Coleman said the essay section, which was introduced in 2005, will now be optional. Coleman has long complained that the current SAT does not reward test-takers for being factual. Students provide examples to support their opinions, without having to be accurate or offer evidence to support those opinions.

COLEMAN: As a result, when scoring student writing on the SAT, we can assess only the coherence of the writing; and cannot look at the quality of the reasoning, the accuracy and relevance of the examples, or the use of data.

SANCHEZ: Coleman said students today are terrified by words on the SAT they might not know. The new SAT will require that students master what he called vocabulary that's relevant and useful. The new math section will focus on three things: problem-solving and data analysis; algebra; and real-world math related to science, technology and engineering fields.

SANCHEZ: These skills, Coleman said, are the hallmark of a college-ready student. More importantly, beginning in the spring of 2016, the new SAT will be aligned with what high schools are teaching. And that's a risky move, says Nicholas Lemann, author of "The Big Test," which chronicled the history of the SAT.

NICHOLAS LEMANN: The SAT was invented explicitly to be the exact opposite of what Mr. Coleman said.

SANCHEZ: Lemann says the people who created the SAT in 1926 wanted to factor out the high school curriculum entirely. Today, the SAT's only chance for survival, says Lemann, is if it aligns itself with the Common Core standards that 45 states have adopted - standards that David Coleman helped write before he became president of the College Board.

By doing that, Lemann says, the College Board can claim that the SAT is a more accurate assessment of students' reading, writing and math skills and therefore, a more reliable predictor of how students will do in college.

LEMANN: And that's one reason why this idea of aligning the SAT more with Common Core is a good idea.

SANCHEZ: It's also a business decision, says Lemann. Aligning a college entrance exam with what kids learn in high school, though, is not a new idea, says Daniel Koretz.

DANIEL KORETZ: It was the motivation for the creation of the ACT, which is the primary competitor to the SAT.

SANCHEZ: Koretz, an expert on testing, teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. He says the ACT has overtaken the SAT because it does what the SAT is now trying to do - predict how well students will perform in college by measuring how well they perform in high school. Bottom line, says Koretz: The SAT has been losing market share, so it's playing catch-up.

KORETZ: The fact that there's been a shift in the market toward the ACT does suggest that admissions officers are increasingly interested in a more curriculum-based test. The real issue is will the new test - whatever it might look like - do a better job or a worse job of that than the current test.

SANCHEZ: We won't know that anytime soon.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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