SAT revisions miss the mark

By Isabelle Cavazos, COLUMNIST
On March 18, 2014

 

While many high school students let out a sigh of relief regarding the recent changes to the SAT — including a return to the previous 1600-point scoring scale and the now optional timed essay — the College Board, which is in charge of the SAT and the Advanced Placement Program, is putting some students on the back burner with these so-called improved changes.

These major revisions, among other changes that will be implemented in 2016, aim to reduce inequality in test preparation.

While the SAT’s makeover intends to better match what students learned in high school and minimize disadvantages for lower-income students, a better focus on test preparation would help students more than making the SAT mirror its competitor, the ACT.

Like the ACT, the SAT will no longer deduct points for wrong answers, include an optional essay and will have a science passage in the reading test, similar to the ACT’s complete science section.

Additional refreshers include providing low-income students with waivers to apply to four colleges at no cost and the College Board’s partnership with a not-for-profit educational resource, Khan Academy, to offer free test-preparation resources for students.

If College Board President David Coleman can say both the SAT and ACT are “disconnected” from secondary education, then both tests beckon comparison and deserve to fall into the same pool of criticism. Though the College Board may not have traced these new plans with the ACT’s template, it should recognize that many lower-income students may continue to face shortcomings even with changes that make the test’s content more similar to what is taught in
the classroom.

According to the ACT’s
2012 Report for Low-Income Students, only 20 percent of lower-income high school graduates met three or more ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, which indicate the achievement necessary to do well in a first-year college course. The same report shows a whopping 46 percent of these students met
no benchmarks.

Though the SAT follows its own benchmark system, the ACT’s report spells out the disadvantages lower-income students face when taking a test already claiming to determine success in relation to high school curriculum. Logically, a change in format will not go a long way in preparing students for the test.

While the College Board should be applauded for making the essay more evidence-based with the examination of a source document, making the essay optional is another mistake altogether and has not been praised.

Coleman argues that doing so follows high school learning and may curb the advantage higher-income students have in preparation for the essay. However, instead of suggesting that lower-income students do not have the potential to do well on a critical part of the exam, preparation for the essay should be equally distributed.

While the College Board is making the effort to pair with Khan Academy, preparation resources should be more available for students regardless of their economic background or the school
they attend.

Instead of leaving students to seek free online sources or expect them to pay up to $699 — the price of Kaplan’s most widely attended preparation course — schools should more frequently offer free weekend courses or school-based SAT preparation, which would bring preparation to the classroom.

Seeking these options would provide students of all economic backgrounds the tools to do well on the test; a better choice than adjusting it with the assumption that lower-income students will not perform well.

Isabelle Cavazos is a sophomore majoring in English.

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