This spring, high school students throughout the U.S.—including those at Tomball and Magnolia ISDs—were introduced to an entirely redesigned SAT as the College Board, a nonprofit organization that designs and administers the SAT, has radically revamped one of the most popular college aptitude tests in the country.

In early March, students began taking a redesigned SAT that, according to the College Board, no longer includes an obscure 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, Magnolia ISD has been preparing its students, parents and staff for the redesigned test. Last fall, MISD created an SAT Boot Camp and encouraged more students to take the PSAT, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Anita Hebert said.College Board adjusts SAT exam to be a better test of college readiness

“[Career counselors] began in the fall informing students about the changes to the SAT and providing practice opportunities through multiple sources,” Hebert said. “They encouraged juniors to prep for the new SAT by taking the new PSAT in the fall prior to the spring administration of the new SAT. They followed up with conferences with students regarding strengths and weaknesses and test-taking strategies. They also hosted an SAT Boot Camp for students in the fall to cover the new format.”

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.”

New test, new features

The new SAT continues to include tests for 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.

“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 and have practiced with over 15 million problems, Schmeiser said.College Board adjusts SAT exam to be a better test of college readiness

“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.”

MISD adjustments

Although Hebert said it is too soon to know if the redesigned test will better predict college readiness, this version of the SAT is more closely aligned with classroom curriculum.

“The new test was updated to be more reflective of current types of reading material and more relevant vocabulary that students are likely to encounter in a variety of areas,” Hebert said. “In addition, the math section focuses more on real world problems that might be encountered in careers and everyday life. The old SAT still maintained the use of obscure vocabulary and contrived problems that, frankly, had little application at all.”

The district sponsors administration of the PSAT to students in the eighth and 10th grades. Freshmen and juniors can also elect to take the PSAT, which prepares MISD students for the SAT, Hebert said.

“Using the student and campus reports, we work to equip students with skills to improve their scores and to make adjustments in our overall instructional program for success on the SAT and in the National Merit TOM-2016-04-14-2Scholarship Program,” she said. “This year Magnolia ISD had two National Merit Scholars, four commended scholars, and one student recognized in the National Hispanic Recognition Program—all from PSAT performance.”

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.” Because the sections are not broken up in the way they were before, Cumberland said students are going to need to have more stamina.

“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.”

Tomball ISD officials declined to comment on the new SAT changes as of press time.