Educators Support Coming SAT Changes

Upcoming changes to one of the nation’s most recognizable assessments of college preparedness are being praised by local educators.

Earlier this month, the College Board announced a number of revisions to its annual SAT college entrance exam for the first time in nearly a decade.

In 2005, the College Board made waves by instituting changes to the SAT in the form of a new points and scoring system and the inclusion of an essay portion. The newly announced updated exam – to be introduced in 2016 – will feature a reversion back to the traditional 1,600-point system that had previously been in place since the exam’s 1926 origins, while the essay portion will become optional and students will no longer be penalized for incorrect answers.

According to Jon Peterson, superintendent of Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School, the decision by the College Board to revise the SAT is an acknowledgment that the current exam has not been an entirely foolproof barometer of a student’s college readiness.

“What I’ve heard is that the SAT, in its current format, hasn’t been a good predictor of student performance at the college level,” Peterson said. “If (the College Board) is going to reformulate, I say ‘bravo’ to them.”

In the March 5 announcement of the changes to come, a College Board spokesperson said the update is needed to make the exam more representative of what students study in high school, along with the skills they need in college and beyond. In doing so, the exam will now feature less instances of archaic terminology, and will begin to employ words more commonly used in school and on the job.

Peterson said the move is in alignment with the goals of the Common Core Learning Standards, which have been widely accepted in 46 states and seek to cultivate more college and career readiness among high school graduates by raising the nation’s educational standards.

“If we’re not successful in achieving that goal (of college and career readiness), we need to revamp our curriculum and our assessments. Obviously, the SAT folks feel they need to do the same,” Peterson said.

In order to achieve this, the test is now being modified to fit the mold of the ever-changing college and work environments by including words such as “empirical” and “synthesis” in lieu of words such as “sagacious” and “prevaricator.” In addition, the math portion will be scaled back from testing on a wide range of concepts to focus on only a few areas, such as algebra. This translates to the use of calculators by students being allowed on only certain math questions rather than the entire math portion.

Michael Mansfield, superintendent of Bemus Point Central School, said the SAT’s reflection of Common Core concepts is helpful in getting everyone on the same page.

“I think it makes sense,” Mansfield said. “I guess one of the better things about the Common Core issue is there’s a lot of people talking the same language, which is another way it helps our students with that consistency. We’re all supposed to work together. So if we’re preparing students using the Common Core standards and shifts they’ve put out, we will, for instance, be preparing them for the SAT.”

The changes also demonstrate a shift toward a greater emphasis on reading comprehension. Each new exam will now include a passage drawn from one of the nation’s founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, or the conversations they have inspired.

From an admissions standpoint, Cory Bezek, associate director of admissions for SUNY Fredonia, said the changes will likely have a positive, albeit minimal, impact. Bezek said SAT scores are generally considered after the strength of an applicant’s high school schedule and their overall grade point average, and then colleges look at the highest score a student achieved between the SAT and the ACT exams.

Although it was once the predominant indicator of student performance and college assessment, the SAT has recently been overtaken in popularity by the competing ACT, which has come to be considered a more curriculum-based exam. Despite the weight an SAT score has on a student’s chances of being accepted to college, Bezek said the College Board’s attempts to bring the SAT into better alignment with grade school curriculum is a positive step.

“Making (the SAT) more in line with the curriculum is not going to be a bad thing. It’s another piece that we use to determine if the student is going to be successful,” Bezek said. “One of the things they’re really highlighting is going back to an emphasis on reading and evaluating passages. And because Fredonia is such a writing-intensive institution, I think that could be a good thing to look at.”

Also new to the SAT in 2016 will be the option for students to take the exam on computers. By contrast, the ACT already offers an optional essay, and announced last year that it would begin making computer-based testing available in 2015.