Lois M. Collins: High hopes for College Board's new SAT format
Eric Gay, Associated Press
My daughter has been taking practice SAT tests periodically since the beginning of the year, hoping she’ll do well when she sits down for the real thing. To get a great score, she once told me, she’d have to be a genius or very lucky. Barring that, she’d need teachers who happened to teach her exactly the right things or parents who could afford some serious prep classes.
Like a hefty portion of middle-class kids, she doesn’t qualify for programs that help children in low-income families get ready for college tests — and those do not seem uniformly available to kids, although they exist at our high school. The professional prep classes offered by a $4.5 billion-a-year industry are not in the budget for many families with kids who would nonetheless make good college students.
Todd Balf summarized criticism of the existing SAT in The New York Times this weekend. “The achievements of children from affluent families were tainted because they 'bought' a score; those in the middle class cried foul because they couldn’t get the 'good stuff' or were overextended trying to; and the poor, often minority students, were shut out completely.” Many with teenagers see themselves somewhere in that statement.
The same article includes a chart headlined “A Test of Knowledge or Income?” On it, the scores rise along with family income on every step of the ladder, with the average SAT score for 2013 college-bound seniors in the lowest income category a 1326 out of 2400, while for the seniors in families that make more than $200,000 the average is 1714.
I am hopeful that students coming behind mine will play on a different field when it comes to taking the SAT. There are big changes afoot, starting in 2016 testing, the College Board has announced. It will be a test too late for my girls.
Some friends say I should be glad, while others feel bad for me. We'll have to see how it shakes out.
In the new testing, the essay part is optional and scored separately, which most seem to agree is a good thing. The core of the test is a three-hour exam worth 1,600 points and which covers evidence-based reading and writing, as well as math. It includes science, history and more.
Notes the College Board, “The redesigned SAT will ask students to apply a deep understanding of the few things shown by current research to matter most for college readiness and success. They’ll find questions modeled on the work of the best classroom teachers and perform tasks practiced in rigorous course work.”
Students must determine the meaning of words based on the context of how they are being used, replacing the flashcard approach with “close reading.” They’ll also be able to answer questions using a variety of tools, from written passages to informational graphics, among other things, an attempt to “more closely reflect the real work of college and career, where a flexible command of evidence — whether found in text or graphic — is more important than ever.”
Math will center on problem solving and data analysis, core algebra concepts and how to use more complex math.
Many people I know object to the move away from subtracting partial points for wrong answers, because they say it encourages guessing. That doesn't bother me.
Khan Academy is teaming up with the College Board to offer broad access to test prep materials, which I hope will help bright kids compete across income levels.
I know people who believe all this dumbs down the test. We’ll have to see. But it needed a makeover — particularly if we are intent on convincing children that college is the SOLE route to success. I'm still not sure one path fits everyone. But I hope these changes do make the SAT more relevant to the world in which kids now live and prepare for their futures.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: Loisco
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