College Board revamps SAT college entrance exam for spring 2016

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For students taking the SAT college entrance exam in spring 2016 and later, it won't be like their older siblings' exam.

The College Board on Wednesday announced the redesigned test, including switching from 2400 points back to 1600 points.

In addition:

* Calculator use will be limited to certain portions, not all of the math section. Math questions will focus on key topics, called problem solving and data analysis; heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math.

* Reading answers will require evidence to support them. Sentence completions are gone. Vocabulary words will be chosen for their power, not their obscurity.

* Source documents will come from a wider range of academic disciplines, and every test will include text from one of America's founding documents or the global conversations they have inspired.

* An essay won't be required, but instead will be optional, yielding a separate score.

* And there's no penalty for wrong answers, each of which now costs a quarter-point.

"We hope you breathe a sigh of relief that this exam will be focused, useful, open, clear and aligned with the work you do throughout high school," said College Board president David Coleman in making the announcement.

Mr. Coleman believes changing the focus of the exam also will change instruction, from rote learning of SAT vocabulary from flashcards to deeper learning. He said the new SAT "will measure the best of what students are working on in class -- the work that most prepares them for college and career success."

The new SAT will have two required portions -- math as well as evidence-based reading and writing -- that each will count for 800 points, for a total of 1600 points.

In addition, the new test will have an optional essay that will have a separate score, the size of which hasn't been announced. The new essay will require students to analyze evidence, not just use personal background and experiences as they do now.

The two required sections will take about three hours and the essay 50 minutes.

Currently, the SAT has three required sections, critical reading, math and writing, which includes a 25-minute essay. Each section is worth up to 800 points for a total of 2400 points. The three combined take three hours and 45 minutes.

The 2400-point scale took effect in 2005 when the writing portion was added, making a three-section test and replacing the previous SAT that had two sections, verbal and math, worth a total of 1600 points.

Al Newell, vice president of enrollment at Washington & Jefferson College said, "At face value, I like where things are heading. I don't know if many people ever adjusted to the 2400-point scale."

He said parents want to talk about a score 1600, and colleges varied as to whether they considered the writing portion or not.

W&J does not use the writing score, but does require a personal statement on the application. While most of its applicants submit SAT scores along with other information, SATs are optional at W&J.

At the University of Pittsburgh, spokesman Ken Service said Pitt currently considers the ACT or SAT writing scores in the admissions process. As for the changes, he said Pitt will be "examining the issues raised by the redesign of the SAT."

Penn State University also considers all three parts of the SAT score for applicants, said spokeswoman Lisa Powers. She said the changes will be reviewed "in the coming months" and communicated to students, families and school counselors.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (known as FairTest) and a longtime SAT opponent, said he thinks the changes "fail to address many major concerns of independent researchers, standardized exam critics and equity advocates."

He noted that since the SAT was revised in 2005, nearly 100 colleges and universities stopped requiring college entrance exams scores, bringing the total to more than 800.

The test costs $51, but the new fee has not been set.

More details of the new exam, including sample items for each section, are to be made available on April 16. Details now available are on the Web at www.collegeboard.org/delivering-opportunity/sat.

The College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, which is online, to provide free test preparation materials for the new SAT so that any student can access test preparation courses.

The College Board also announced fee waivers for college applications for income-eligible students who take the SAT. Each such student will be able to get four application fee waivers.

The College Board also has an "All In" campaign to encourage prepared African-American, Latino and Native Americans to take Advanced Placement or other advanced courses.

Mr. Coleman said many high-performing students from underrepresented minorities do not enroll in advanced courses or apply to selective colleges.

Mr. Coleman noted a College Board report last fall that said, based on the SAT, only 43 percent of all American students are college-ready, something he views a "call to action."

Mr. Coleman said many teachers see the ACT and SAT college entrance exams as unfairly measuring their students' work.

"It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become far too disconnected from the work of our high schools," Mr. Coleman said.


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published March 5, 2014 2:25 PM

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