RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There are changes coming to the SAT college entrance exam next year. As of today, students can go online for the SAT's new free study prep and practice tools. They come from Khan Academy. That's an online education nonprofit. It has partnered with the College Board, which administers the SAT, and that partnership is something of a challenge to the lucrative test prep industry. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: This new online coaching platform could take a big bite out of the college test prep industrial complex, a multimillion dollar field that offers everything from $4,000 private tutoring courses to SAT prep shower curtains, $28.99 plus shipping. To prepare for the new SAT, the College Board is now offering free tutorials for all created in partnership with the Kahn Academy, and both are working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to make both online and in-person tutoring available at clubs for students who don't have computers, Internet access, a safe place to study, or the money for expensive test prep courses. Kahn Academy founder Sal Kahn says these moves will help level the playing field for less affluent students.
SAL KAHN: Any student, especially lower-income students, should be able to go onto the Kahn Academy resource. They'll get unlimited practice, unlimited feedback. They'll get explanations and video and in text form, and if they engage on that on a regular basis and really master the concepts, I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be able to compete at a level footing.
WESTERVELT: Students have had access to some free online SAT prep tools for years, but Kahn says the close cooperation with the College Board will make his prep courses a lot more useful to, in the parlance of our times, disrupt the test prep model.
KAHN: Not what test prep is traditionally associated with, you know, tricks and, when in doubt, pick C or test taking strategies, but mainly the best way to perform well on something like the SAT is to have a mastery of the skills of the math, the reading, the writing. That's the goal. Hopefully it actually changes people's perception of what test prep actually is.
WESTERVELT: College Board CEO David Coleman predicted the partnership will go beyond test prep by offering content that will reinforce classroom work and enhance college readiness. The second major revision of the SAT in 10 years includes these changes - the essay section will now be optional, students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers, and obscure SAT words that are little used in everyday conversation will be dropped. The emphasis now will be on relevant, useful vocabulary in context. Bob Schaeffer with the watchdog group FairTest calls the new free test prep tools laudable, but Schaeffer, whose group promotes making college entrance exams optional, argues that all the tweaking doesn't change the fact that the SATs will continue to be largely a reflection of social economic status not an accurate predictor of college readiness or success.
BOB SCHAEFFER: Nothing in the changes announced for the SAT has dealt with its historic flaws. The SAT will still be a weaker predictor than high school grades. It still will be an unfair, unlevel playing field for historically disenfranchised groups, and it will still be susceptible to high-priced coaching programs.
WESTERVELT: To date, more than 850 colleges and universities no longer require SAT or ACT scores to make admissions decisions. The College Board, however, think its revisions and test prep changes could reverse that trend and make the SAT more relevant than ever. Eric Westervelt, NPR News.
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