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The SAT gets a makeover

Sabri Ben-Achour Feb 27, 2013

The SAT gets a makeover

Sabri Ben-Achour Feb 27, 2013

SAT:College ::

A.) beaver:mercedes

B.) quickly:galaxy

C.) mitochondria:zooxanthellae

D.) marmelade:Harrison Ford

The answer is obvious, of course, and you should feel deeply, deeply ashamed if it’s not. Just close your web browser or phone now, and leave. Otherwise, read on.

The SAT is about to undergo some major changes. According to a letter from David Coleman, the president of the College Board, the main purpose is to “increase the value of the SAT.” For students, that means, “focusing on a core set of knowledge and skills that are essential to college and career success.” For admissions officers, it means being a better predictor of college success, and for K-12 educators, it means making the test more reflective of what’s taught in classes.

From a business perspective, there may be another reason: market share. Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, says many people suspect “the reason the SAT is changing is that the ACT last year overtook the SAT by a very small margin.”

The ACT is the other big admissions test, and the number of students who take it grew 50 percent in the past decade — 1,666,017 students took the ACT at least once in 2012, versus 1,664,479 who took the SAT.

The ACT used to be primarily a mid-west phenomenon, but it has expanded its range. It’s become a required high school exit exam in some states, and it’s sometimes viewed as more closely connected to a high school curriculum. The ACT may also just be another exam for people who didn’t like how they did on the SAT.

But fighting over market share aside, both ACT and SAT are facing a certain amount of criticism. Wake Forest University, for example, is “test-optional” — you don’t have to take the SAT or the ACT.

“So are 38 percent of all four-year degree granting institutions in the united states,” says Joseph Soares, professor of sociology at Wake Forest University and author of “SAT Wars.” “It conveys no additional useful information over and above what the high school transcript tells us,” he argues — and even does so at a cost.

Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, says standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, “reinforce racial and socioeconomic inequality.”

But he also says selective schools will still be interested in the exams for their predictive power. “The SAT provides a way of comparing between high schools,” he says. Comparing different high schools can sometimes be like comparing apples and oranges, but Kahlenberg says, “It does have predictive value in the first year of school. Which is not irrelevant, because you don’t want to admit students who are likely to fail.”

Either way, many schools still value the ACT and SAT and require at least one. Plus, more than a million and a half students each year continue to take one or both standardized tests, whether their favorite school cares or not. According to Scott Jaschik with InsideHigherEd, most colleges that go test-optional still accept SAT and ACT scores, and two-thirds of applicants continue to submit them.

In other words, students will never pass up an opportunity to prove themselves.

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