The big announcement in March by David Coleman of The College Board on the new SAT to be released in 2016 was met with mixed reviews, but mostly negative from the observers in whom I have the most confidence. The “improvements”, according to Coleman, are designed to better reflect what students have actually studied in high school and, as a result, it seems to move even further away from an IQ-type evaluation that was the basis for the original test in the 1920s. Other significant changes include the elimination of a timed essay, which will now be optional; a reduction in the use of “obscure” vocabulary, to be replaced by more “relevance”; the elimination of a penalty for wrong answers; and more emphasis on our nation’s founding documents (a very positive change). So what’s not to like?
First, the increased emphasis on testing high school curriculum is problematic, given the wide disparity in the quality and rigor of the high school experience across the country, and will greatly advantage those students who have had an enriched experience. The new test will clearly be intended to align with the Common Core Standards, particularly given Mr. Coleman’s role as chief designer of the Standards, which are controversial around the country to say the least. To the extent that students have come from K-12 systems with strong standards and rigorous criterion-referenced assessments of college readiness, they will be OK with the new test, but others will be disadvantaged.
Second, the elimination of the mandatory essay and the “dumbing down” of vocabulary usage seem to send the message to educators that good writing and strong vocabulary skills are being de-emphasized, not the message we need for success in the 21st century workplace, which places a premium on these skills.
Overall, I have the sense that the impetus for these changes to make the test “more accessible, straightforward, and grounded in what is taught in high school” have as much to do with the competitive posture of the SAT vis a vis the ACT as any other factor because, on balance, I view these changes as steps in the wrong direction for our students.
Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars, has weighed in with a comprehensive analysis of the changes and reaches the conclusion that they “…..adjust the test to the ongoing decline in the nation’s public schools…….The Common Core’s standards amount to an assault on the college curriculum, because colleges will have to adapt to what the Common Core teaches, and what it fails to teach…….The whole thing is an experiment in social leveling”. See his full essay at www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2014/03/the_sat_upgrade_is_a_big_mista.html