College Board tests public patience with change for the worse

College Board’s recent Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) overhaul has sparked an uproar from parents, students, and SAT instructors.  Since College Board failed to publish the anticipated new version of the SAT Official Study Guide, the educational world braced itself for a “new and improved” SAT.

These changes—scrapping the more obscure vocabulary words, eliminating the guessing penalty, and providing students with an option to write the essay—are imitations of the more popular ACT.  About 1.7 million students took the SAT while 1.8 million took the ACT in 2013.   It is clear that College Board’s changes are driven by competition in the standardized testing industry.

In truth, the “new and improved” SAT is a marketing scheme, a way for College Board to generate more revenue.  College Board praises itself as the pioneer of better educational standards, yet in this instance, it appears to have fallen victim to the devil of consumer competition.

The real question is: what will be the final outcome of these changes?  Ultimately, very little.

The SAT has become—and will remain—a measure of wealth.  Those who are fortunate can afford to hire a tutor who can teach them the various nuances of the exam, ultimately helping their students achieve an above-average score.  Though College Board President David Coleman recently claimed the moves symbolize “the College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity,” in a March press release.  However, Mr. Coleman, if the SAT will now test analytical skills, will tutors simply roll over and give up on the profession?

Changing the test to eliminate higher-level vocabulary may appear to promote analytical thinking; however, tutors will surely learn how to break down reading passages to and pass them on to students.  Just like how students master the skills of sentence completion and context clues, they will learn to analyze documents for buzzwords and look for clues in mathematical word problems.  The result will be a full-circle journey ending back at the original problem—a failure to create a test that can assess a student’s capability and eliminate socio-economic advantage.

This advantage is both obvious and startling.  College Board reported the mean scores of the class of 2013: 496 in critical reading, 514 in mathematics, and 488 in writing for a total score of 1498.  As stated, students whose families can pay the sixty dollar hourly fee for private tutoring can elevate their standing on average one hundred to two hundred points, netting a near fifteen percent overall score increase from the College Board mean scores.

Though these changes seem to stem from poor intentions, the efforts to adjust student learning can be salvaged.  Educators in schools need to follow this movement of analytical, applicative learning.  Already, districts such as WW-P have attempted to move towards this by limiting memorization and increasing focus on understanding concepts.  “The redesigned SAT is just one part of our broader effort to deliver opportunity,” two executives wrote in a public letter. “By working together, we can ensure that many more students will be college and career ready and take advantage of the opportunities they have earned.”.

Unless public education follows College Board, this new SAT will only serve to fill the wallets of tutors and test administrators alike.  As Coleman admitted, “Research will guide our efforts to enhance the work students already do in their classes in grades 6–12.  And that research shows that mastery of fewer, more important things matters more than superficial coverage of many.”

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