This spring, high school students throughout the U.S.—including those at Spring and Klein ISDs—are being 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 began taking 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.
Since the changes to the test began to circulate last year, Spring and Klein ISDs have been preparing their students, parents and staff for the different test.
KISD teachers and administrators have received additional training from College Board as well as curriculum addendums that align with the test, said Adam Hile, KISD director of curriculum and instruction.
Meanwhile SISD offers SAT preparation as an elective in addition to after-school and Saturday SAT preparation classes.
“We are working through our strategic plan Every Child 2020, specifically with our college readiness department, to offer systemwide opportunities for students to receive SAT preparation,” said Jennifer Cobb, assistant superintendent for research, accountability and testing. “The district uses free online resources offered by Khan Academy for SAT preparation that builds a personalized practice program for its users.”
Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at 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. She called the statistic “staggering.”
“As we stepped back, we thought we needed to rethink the 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.
She 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.
“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,” Schmeiser said. “We are not measuring everything students learn but those that research has told us are most important.”
The new SAT, which will be administered for the first time to students beginning March 5, will continue to test math, reading and writing. The way those subjects will be tested, however, 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, writing and math, and there is also an optional essay,” she said. “The subject areas are still the same, but the approach within and what we are measuring in those areas have changed quite a bit. To make [the test] 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.”
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 Kahn Academy to offer SAT practice materials online for free.
Over three-quarters of a million students have already gone into satpractice.org 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,” Schmeiser said. “We are getting a lot of reinforcement from kids and colleges as well. Frankly, they are finding the questions to be very clear and straightforward, so we are excited and very optimistic and are looking forward to the first test date in March.”
Hile said the new test is better for students and teachers because it is more similar to current curriculum standards than the previous version of the SAT.
“The content on the new SAT more closely aligns with the [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills assessment] that teachers are required to teach in Texas,” Hile said. “For example, the vocabulary sections have been revised to include vocabulary that students would be more likely to see in standard literature than lists of words they should memorize.”
Both SISD and KISD administer the PSAT, an SAT prep test, to its 8th-12th graders each year. SISD participated in a new suite of exams offered this year by College Board. Testing at an early age allows the district to begin preparing students for college earlier, Hile said.
“The PSAT aligns with content that students see in the middle school level,” Hile said. “Because of this, we can prepare students for these college readiness tests throughout their years in school rather than waiting until their junior or senior year to focus on one test”
Yvonne Cumberland, owner and director of the SAT prep company Texas Educational Consultants, said it could take three or four tests before students really figure out the new SAT and educators can really gauge how students are handling it.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Cumberland said. “Only time will tell at this point.”
“The questions will come in bigger chunks; all of the math and reading questions will come together,” she said. “For students who struggle with a certain subject, they’re going to have to be able to do it for a longer period of time.”
Cumberland said changes to the math and reading portions could throw some students off in the early stages as well.
“Math is definitely harder,” she said. “The old [SAT] stopped at Algebra 2, but the new one includes more questions on statistics and trigonometry. The reading section is going to include more charts and graphs, kind of like how the science section of the ACT is designed. They want to make sure students can interpret charts and graphs.”
However, Cobb said she believes the changes are beneficial to SISD students.
“We believe that our students could perform better on the new SAT because the format of the test appears to test students’ skills and knowledge instead of memorization,” Cobb said. “After the first administration in March, we will have a better idea of the impact of this test on our students.”