NEW SAT in play: College Board announces major test overhaul

Update 12/3/2013

In a surprise move, the president of the College Board, David Coleman, announced that the College Board will push back the release of the new SAT one full year – until Spring of 2016. Apparently the College Board needs more time to get its Common Core ducks in a row and create a test that can compete with the ever-surging ACT. This decision will certainly cost the College Board market share, as the ACT has already rocketed past 1.8 million annual test-takers and shows no sign of slowing down. As ACT, Inc., locks down more and more state-wide contracts, pressure continues to mount on the College Board to revise its flagship assessment.

The College Board will administer a preview PSAT in October of 2015 in preparation for a March 2016 SAT release. Current 9th graders will be the first students to take the new SAT. The members of the sophomore class are off the hook! Their choices will remain today’s SAT or ACT. Current freshmen, however, will have a much broader array of options: the vocabulary-laden SAT in its present form, the upcoming Common-Core-aligned SAT, and the paper and digital versions of the ACT. Change is still on the horizon, but now it seems we have more time to prepare.

It’s the end of the SAT as we know it, and it’s about time.  The SAT is outdated, and many of its underlying assumptions about how to effectively measure college readiness are no longer valid.  As discussed in my recent article on the battle of the tests, the SAT has become so out-of-step with high school curricula that it’s facing threats from both the ACT and Common-Core backed assessments being developed by testing consortia PARCC and Smarter Balanced.  We deserve a better test, and it looks like David Coleman, the newly minted president of the College Board, is about to deliver it to us.

To its credit, the College Board of late has been a fairly responsive and change-embracing organization:  it has already revamped the SAT twice in the past twenty years.  In 1995 antonyms were dropped and calculators were permitted to help students manage significantly harder math concepts.  In 2005, responding to research pointing to the greater predictive value of SAT subject tests and to University of California threats to drop the SAT, the College Board killed off analogies, scrapped data sufficiency math problems, and integrated the Writing subject test into the SAT reasoning test.  Now, it looks like 2014-2015 will give us a brand new SAT, and from all I’ve gathered, the change is going to be a good one for students.

Coleman, fresh off a leadership role with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, has wasted no time tackling head-on the problems with the SAT.  He took office in mid-October, and by late November he was spelling out the shortcomings of the current test to an audience at the Brookings Institution  (full transcript here). His critiques are spot on.  Why have students memorize vocabulary that will be of little to no value to them beyond the SAT, rather than vocabulary tied directly to scholarship and college-level discourse?  Why have students write essays that require no factual basis to receive perfect scores (see my article here on the folly of the SAT essay), rather than write from evidence with precision and accuracy, the hallmark of most college-level writing assessments?  Is the math on the SAT relevant for success in college or in careers?  Coleman is asking the right questions.

Coleman appears to understand that if the SAT does not evolve with the Common Core Initiative and better align itself with high-school objectives and college readiness, it will cease to be relevant in the not-so-distant future.  To the crowd at Brookings, he promised that he would “not compete with the assessment consortia.”  He stated, “My job is not to protect SAT or protect any given instrument.”  But if the College Board loses the SAT, it would be a tremendous blow to that organization.  Instead, it seems Coleman has determined that it’s time to change the test to ensure that it retains a place in the new educational landscape.

In a memorandum sent out yesterday to all members of the College Board (full text available here) , CB Vice President Peter Kauffmann announced that major changes to the SAT are now in the works.  His language specifically focused on aligning the assessment with the Common Core.  He wrote that even in its current form, the SAT is better aligned to the Common Core than any other assessment, i.e. the ACT. This is a minority opinion, but by the time the College Board writers are done, this may well come to pass.  We do not yet have specifics on what is changing or when we can expect the new test, but history tells us that the College Board and its team of writers and psychometricians will need time to craft, validate and calibrate a new assessment.  This will most likely be a multi-year process.

A smarter SAT is in the works.  It’s time to chuck the abstruse and archaic vocabulary, remnants of turn-of-the-20th century IQ tests.  With iPhones and Galaxy smartphones in our pockets, do we really need to memorize thousands of obscure vocabulary words?  Let’s bring evidence and critical thinking to the center of the essay.  Focus on the critical reasoning and problem solving skills that students need now more than ever in the “open-book” world we live in.  If Coleman and his College Board crew can construct an assessment that will more accurately measure what students need to know to succeed in college and in their careers, it will be a boon to all stakeholders in the field of education.

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  • Meredith

    I think you’re exaggerating the uselessness of vocabulary. The SAT vocab is not too abstruse in my opinion, and contains words that college-bound students should already know to some extent. The presence of technology in our pockets should not make us complacent.

  • Kaylee

    “In a surprise move, the president of the College Board, David
    Coleman, announced that the College Board will push back the release of
    the new SAT one full year – until Spring of 2016.” Could you offer a source for this announcement? I am eager to learn more about what is in store with the SAT overhaul.

  • CJ Schwartz

    The vocabulary section really could use some revamping (please delete this useless section ASAP!). However I don’t see valid reason to modify any other section of the exam; in fact, I feel the SAT is a very challenging test that has allowed me to see how I can improve myself.