By TAMAR LEWIN MARCH 5, 2014
Saying its college admission exams do not focus enough on the important academic skills, the College Board announced on Wednesday a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, eliminating obligatory essays, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong and cutting obscure vocabulary words.
David Coleman, president of the College Board, criticized his own test, the SAT, and its main rival, the ACT, saying that both “have become disconnected from the work of our high schools.”
In addition, Mr. Coleman announced new programs to help low-income students, who will now be given fee waivers allowing them to apply to four colleges at no charge. And even before the new exam starts, the College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer free online practice problems from old tests and instructional videos showing how to solve them.
The changes coming to the exam are extensive: The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary words will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, such as “empirical” and “synthesis.”
Coleman is an old McKinsey consultant, and he resents the English teacher aspect of a lot of American education. Thus, his Common Core standards reduce the amount of fiction and replace it with non-fiction.
The math questions, now scattered widely across many topics, will focus more narrowly on linear equations, functions and proportional thinking. The use of a calculator will no longer be allowed on some of the math sections. The new exam will be available on paper and computer,
The best change would be to go to an all computerized test, where the difficulty level of the questions adjust over the course of the test to how well or badly the student is doing. The military went to this on the ASVAB and it made scores for the not very bright more accurate since they were less likely to give up and bubble in.
and the scoring will revert to the old 1600 scale, with a top score of 800 on math and what will now be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.” The optional essay will have a separate score.
The essay will now be optional, and it will be like one of the essays on the Advanced Placement tests where you have to read some documents and then write a report on them citing your evidence rather than just writing an essay off the top of your head. This reflects Coleman's McKinsey v. English teachers bias, and sounds pretty reasonable to me.
Once the pre-eminent college admissions exam, the SAT has recently lost ground to the ACT, which is based more directly on high school curriculums and is now taken by a slightly higher number of students.
I'm not an expert on this, but my impression is that the SAT was traditionally a superior test at discriminating among high end students. The long term trend toward ACTification of the SAT strikes me as wrong-headed, but that's what the mass market wants.
... Mr. Coleman, who came to the College Board in 2012, announced his plans to revise the SAT a year ago. He has spoken from the start about his dissatisfaction with the essay test added to the SAT in 2005, his desire to make the test mesh more closely with what students should be doing in high school, and his hopes of making a dent in the intense coaching and tutoring that give affluent students an advantage on the test and often turn junior year into a test-prep marathon.
Good luck with that. The test prep book publishers, among others, will make a fortune off issuing all new books. No longer can you use the old one your big sister bought in 2011 and never finished. You need to buy an all new one.
“It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” he said in a speech Wednesday in which he announced the changes. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem.”
I agree with the rhetoric, but where is the evidence that Coleman's changes will hurt test prep? My guess is that churn in testing benefits professional test preppers because they stay on top of the latest changes.
Some of the changes will make the new SAT more like the ACT, which for the last two years has outpaced the SAT in test-takers and is increasingly being adopted as a public high school test by state education officials. Thirteen states use it that way now and three more are planning to do so. The ACT has no guessing penalty
I can't see why getting rid of the guessing penalty would make the SAT better. Here's how the guessing penalty works: there are five multiple choice answers, so the expected value of sheer guessing is 0.20. But, getting an answer wrong inflicts a 0.25 point penalty, so the expected value of sheer guessing is 0.00.
It's a minor issue, but I don't see why there would be value in getting rid of something that has been in place for many decades.
, and its essay is optional. It also includes a science section, and while the SAT is not adding one, the redesigned reading test will include a science passage.
But beyond the particulars, Mr. Coleman emphasized that the three-hour exam — 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay — had been redesigned with an eye to reinforce the skills and evidence-based thinking students should be learning in high school, and move away from a need for test-taking tricks and strategies.
Once again, good luck with that. There are people right now in Seoul brainstorming about how they're going to coach their tutees all the new tricks and strategies that will inevitably be opened up.
Sometimes, students will be asked not just to select the right answer, but to justify it by choosing the quote from a text that provides the best supporting evidence for their answer.
That might be good, might not. What I'd like to see in this article is Coleman citing the extensive testing that his organization has done (they have done extensive research, right?) to prove that his intuitions about how to make the SAT better actually make the SAT better, rather than just being his opinions. Like I've said before, since the American educational establishment has decided to more or less bet the country on one guy, Coleman isn't the worst guy they could have picked. But, does he have evidence to confirm his hunches, or his he just imposing his will?
The revised essay, in particular, will shift in that direction. Students now write about their experiences and opinions, with no penalty for incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones. Going forward, though, students will get a source document and be asked to analyze it for its use of evidence, reasoning and persuasive or stylistic technique.
Sounds reasonable. They already do it on the AP.
The text will be different on each exam, but the essay task will remain constant. The required essay never caught on with most college admissions officers. Few figure the score into the admission decision. And many used the essay only occasionally, as a raw writing sample to help detect how much parents, consultants and counselors had edited and polished the essay submitted with the application.
Starting in the spring of 2016, some of the changes to the SAT will include:
• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”
This is part of Coleman's prejudice against Ye Olde Poetry. Does he have any evidence that his reform will actually accomplish anything good? And do his example even make sense? "Depreciatory" is obviously related to "depreciation" which comes up in a whole lot of college classes on accounting and business. "Membranous" is obviously related to "membrane," which comes up in lots of college biology and pre-med courses.
Vocabulary questions are highly IQ-loaded, which is much of the point of the Scholastic Aptitude Test -- it complements high school GPA by helping identify smart kids, the ones who can work out what "depreciatory" more or less means from knowing, say, what "appreciate" means.
• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.
This is part of the triumph of E.D. Hirsch, which doesn't strike me as a bad thing. Hirsch was an English professor who looked into why students at local grade schools were doing so badly and he decided that part of the problem was that they were so factually ignorant. So, he recommended that instead of reading instruction including a lot of poems and fiction, it should have lots more nonfiction passages imparting basic "core knowledge."
• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Last year, some insightful college admissions folks had unkind things to say about Coleman's nascent plans for redoing the SAT. If you are interested in this topic, they are worth reading.