News: Future Changes to SAT Aim to Promote Equality and Align With High School Curricula

Photo Credit: Sarah Hoover

SAT prep books like these may become less common as the College Board unites with Khan Academy to create free online preparatory content for test takers.

Yesterday, the College Board announced its plan to implement future changes to the SAT aimed at aligning the test’s contents with schoolwork and promoting equity among test-takers. The modifications, set to take effect in 2016, will alter the structure of the test as well as the nature of individual questions. The new format also has the potential to shift the growing number of students taking the ACT back to the SAT test.

 

Among the various changes, the most prominent are the following:
-The essay portion of the test will become optional
-The content will expand to include science, history, social studies, and several other disciplines
-The guessing penalty will be eliminated altogether
-The overall score will once again be composed of 1,600 points

 

The decision to broaden the coverage of the exam was a part of the goal to synchronize the content more closely with the material students are dealing with in school. However, teachers speculate that this change will come at the cost of restricting the content covered in each individual subject.

 

When asked about the changes, Liane Strub, who teaches the English portion of the SAT prep class at M-A, feels that the changes could drastically affect the structure of the class, but potentially have little effect on how the test is taken. Despite the essays being optional, Strub speculates that “anyone who wants to remain competitive will still take the essay,” practically making the elimination of the essay ineffective.

 

Ultimately, the viability of the goal to promote equity among test-takers is yet to be determined. However, Strub’s immediate concerns lie in the response of the University of California (UC) system to these changes to come. The UC system currently has the ability to largely dictate the form of the test, and if these new changes are not up to their standards, they could reject the tests. Ultimately, Strub feels that both the ACT and SAT are “market driven,” which explains why these tests often change in response to the popularity of one another.

 

Math department chair Gregg Whitnah, who instructs the math portion of the SAT prep class, is waiting to see samples of the new test questions before taking action, as the changes will only be applicable to the current freshman class and beyond. He also supposes that changes to College Board policy may eliminate demand for the school-sponsored prep class altogether. Along with the changes in the test, the College Board also plans to collaborate with Khan Academy to formulate free online instruction as a part of the effort to “eliminate the income factor” in one’s preparedness for the test, thus reducing the need for outside prep.

 

Two months ago, the College Board had stated that it would achieve this same goal by making the test impossible to prepare for. Now Whitnah claims they are doing “just the opposite” by instead making the necessary preparation accessible to all students.

 

However, Whitnah is hesitant to conclude that the initiative will generate the intended results. “The reality is that not all students are going to equally take advantage of that opportunity. The same students who before were taking the SAT classes on the side will be the same students who are taking advantage of these websites.”

 

Whitnah also notes that some of the smaller changes, such as the elimination of the guessing penalty and the new rule that students will only be allowed to use a calculator on certain parts of the math portion, may also influence the nature of the questions.

 

Although scrapping the guessing penalty will “help students,” he believes that steps towards reducing the amount of math-related content covered will ultimately make the test more difficult. “When you have a lot of varied content, then one of the things that’s going to separate students is that some students know the content, and some don’t.” According to Whitnah, with a more limited selection of content, the test questions will have to adjust to be able to properly distinguish students.

 

As for the calculator rule, Whitnah postulates that some of the new questions may actually require the use of a calculator, in contrast to the “calculator neutral” questions in circulation currently. This change has the potential to favor higher-income students with access to graphing calculators, further alienating the College Board from its proposed mission to improve equity for test-takers.