This spring, high school students throughout the U.S. were introduced to an entirely redesigned SAT as the College Board, a nonprofit organization that designs and administers the SAT, has drastically changed one of the most popular college aptitude tests in the country.

Beginning in March, students have taken a redesigned SAT that, according to the College Board, does away with the difficult vocabulary section and adds in more straightforward questions based on real-world college and career concepts.

Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at the College Board, said the changes to the test came after the discovery that of the 1.7 million students who took the SAT in 2015, only 42 percent were ready to enter college without the need for remedial courses—a statistic she called “staggering.”Students see revamped SAT in 2016

“As we stepped back, we thought we needed to rethink assessment and not only help more kids become prepared for college or career, but we need to connect them with opportunities to help them navigate that pathway to college, which is not always a clear one,” Schmeiser said. “We redesigned the SAT to focus very clearly and specifically on those skills that are necessary for college readiness and success. These are the skills that students are learning every day in the classroom, but we are focusing very clearly on really what matters. We are not measuring everything students learn, but those that research has told us are most important.”

Schmeiser said the College Board stays on top of curriculum changes at the high school level and regularly adjusts the test to follow those trends. The last time the test received a major change was in 2005.

New test, new features

The new SAT, which was administered for the first time to students in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto ISDs beginning in March, will continue to test in math, reading and writing. But the way those areas will be tested has changed, Schmeiser said.

“The test is a little shorter—there are fewer questions—but we are still focused on testing kids’ college-readiness skills in reading and writing and in math, and there is also an optional essay. The subject areas are still the same, but the approach within and what we are measuring in those areas have changed quite a bit,” she said.

“We thought to make it the most consumer-friendly, we thought making [the essay portion] optional or allowing each higher-education system to decide whether to require it gave our constituencies the most flexibility,” Schmeiser said.

The College Board also changed the way students study for the test. Instead of paying for costly SAT practice courses and study materials, the College Board partnered with the Kahn Academy to now offer SAT practice materials online for free.

“Over three-quarters of a million kids have already gone into and have practiced with over 15 million problems,” Schmeiser said. “We are getting feedback from kids stating that the new test is more of a reflection of what they have learned in school. We are getting a lot of reinforcement from kids and colleges as well.”

School adjustments

School districts across the state are preparing for the new test. In Round Rock, Michelle Swain, director of Gifted and Advanced Academic Services for Round Rock ISD, said the district is encouraging students to access the free test prep through Kahn Academy.

“While there are programs that can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, [the free online test prep] is a move by Kahn and the College Board to level the playing field by providing high-quality practice to everyone,” she said.

Swain said many of the students who have taken the test are finding the format easier than they anticipated.

“They are finding it’s more akin to what they are learning and doing in the classroom on a regular basis,” she said.

Swain said RRISD has a strong relationship with the College Board, and the nonprofit helped provide resources and training support to teachers, administrators and staff.

“They provided a significant amount of support in the change,” she said. “And they’ve given us resources and support to give the students and parents.”

This is also the second year both PfISD and RRISD offered the SAT on a school day for students, during which the districts pay for all Juniors and some seniors in PfISD to take the test in order to even the playing field.

“It takes away the barriers of jobs and transportation and finances and gives every single one of our juniors the opportunity to access the SAT exam as a college-readiness measure,” Swain said.

Additional reporting by Scott Thomas