College Board changes the SAT for 2016 causing controversy


Lucy Newman, The Eagle Senior Writer

College Board, the corporation in charge of several standardized tests
including the SAT, recently announced that the SAT will be changed
dramatically for the 2016 testing year.

Changes to the SAT will include the following: The essay will be
optional, and vocabulary will be more relevant to students’ futures.
Reading questions will be short answer instead of multiple choice.
Math will cover fewer topics, but in more depth, and some of the math
will be no-calculator. A quarter-point will no longer be deducted for
incorrect answers, scores will be out of 1600 again instead of 2400,
and there will be digital as well as paper versions of the test
available. Further, the College Board will partner with Khan Academy
to provide test prep to all students for free.

In explaining the reasoning behind the changes, David Coleman,
president of the College Board, admits that standardized testing as it
is currently formatted creates “unnecessary anxiety” for students. “It
is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from
the work of our high schools,” he says. “We do not want to slow
students down. We want to propel them forward.”

Relevance is one important theme to the changes. “No longer will the
SAT only have disconnected problems or tricky situations students
won’t likely see again,” claims Mr. Coleman. The new test will “focus
on words students will use over and over again, that open up worlds to
them.” Mr. Coleman recognizes that “a single brief timed essay has not
historically proved predictive of college success.” He admits that it
is may not be helpful to students that “Today, when we say that
someone has used an SAT word, it often means a word you have not heard
before and are not likely to soon hear again.”

Mr. Coleman’s impressive rhetoric may be obscuring the real reason for
the changes, however. Standardized testing is a multi-billion dollar
industry. The SAT and ACT are widely recognized by colleges and
students as the two most important tests for determining college
acceptance. While colleges have historically preferred the SAT, the
ACT’s market share has been increasing recently. This trend likely
contributed to the College Board’s decision to remake their test.

Whatever the motivation, College Board seems to have it right that
changes are needed. According to an article in Time, “The blunt fact
is that the SAT has never been a good predictor of academic
achievement in college.” Further, students and teachers alike are
frustrated by the stressful testing culture of high schools today.
“I’ve actually taught SAT prep courses in the past. And it’s like
they’re intentionally trying to trick you,” says Obama’s eleventh
grade English teacher, Ms. Papale. “They should at least be giving
people a shot.”

“There are different types of genius,” says Olivia Perfetti of Obama
Academy. She is referring to the theory of multiple intelligences,
developed by a psychologist named Howard Gardner. “There’s artistic
intelligence, and interpersonal, and other types. The SAT makes it
seem like verbal and mathematical intelligence are the only kinds that
are important. Life isn’t just math, reading, and writing, so students
should have an opportunity to show talent in other areas.” Ms. Papale
agrees. She says that the current SAT is “…way too limiting. They
placed way too much importance on vocabulary and certain mathematical

Sidony Ridge, also in eleventh grade, points out that the current
American education system emphasizes standardized testing far more
than that of Finland, which has the best education system in the world.
Finland has very few standardized tests. The Finnish system gives
freedom to the teachers to assess their students in a way that is
relevant to the material being taught. Yet Finland has consistently
been ranked first in the world for various international education

Students also need to keep in mind what is not changing. First, the
SAT will still be standardized. As long as it is equally more or less
difficult for all students, the relative scores will stay the same.
Don’t expect your scores to be radically different on the new test.

Second, the amount that colleges count the SAT for will not be changed
by this announcement. While Mr. Coleman’s statement that high
schooler students face too much stress is helpful, any change in the testing
culture has to come from colleges and universities, teachers and
school administrations, and the students themselves. Some colleges are
starting to count SATs for less, but they are still crucial for
getting into most colleges.

Third, standardized testing has an inherent bias that is impossible to
remove, despite the partnership with Khan Academy. “How can you give
the same test to urban, suburban, and rural students?” asks Ms.
Papale. “They speak differently, have different backgrounds, and
experience life differently.” Grammar may be one of the more biased
components of the SAT. Ms. Papale explains that one of her students,
who is a hard worker and excels with comprehension and insight into
literature, struggles with grammar. This student, who is African
American, lives in an environment where the English spoken has
different grammar rules than those used by the SAT, yet is being
graded against other students whose parents and peers always speak
so-called “proper” English.

This student’s situation is not, of course, unique. Because the
problem is, the tests are trying to use three hours of filling in
bubbles to line up every eleventh grader in America in order of how
well they will do in college. And that is impossible to do accurately.

On the other hand, the changes that College Board is making seem
like a step in the right direction. Ninth grader Lainey Newman likes
the idea of free test prep on Khan Academy. “I think that will be a
valuable tool because all students, regardless of external factors,
will be able to have support and preparation for the exams,” she says.

The first class to be affected by the changes is the class of 2017, or
the current ninth graders. A short-term problem caused by these
changes could be the transition from the old format to the new one.
Olivia, now in eleventh grade, explains that she was glad to have had
help from her older sister in studying for the SATs. “I’m glad that at
least we knew what to do and weren’t the first class to have to deal
with a new test format,” she says.

However, many Obama students are optimistic that the new system will
be an improvement. Many like that the essay will be optional. Mr.
Kocur, the tenth grade English teacher at Obama, feels that this
change makes sense considering that few colleges currently consider
the writing section anyways. Ninth graders are relieved that they will
not have to spend hours memorizing esoteric vocabulary words.

The changes to the SAT may mark the beginning of an important shift in
the nature of testing in America. There is enough evidence against the
current format of standardized tests that the top testing corporation
is responding. We will have to wait until the College Board’s changes
are implemented to see whether it is simply a marketing maneuver, or
whether the change is really a radical break from the past that will
lead to further changes in testing and education.