This spring, U.S. high school students will be 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 country’s most popular college aptitude tests.
In March, students will take a redesigned SAT that, according to the College Board, does away with the difficult vocabulary section and adds straight-forward questions based on real-world college and career concepts.
Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at College Board, said the test changes followed the discovery that of the 1.7 million students who took the SAT in 2015, only 42 percent were ready to enter college without a remedial courses—a statistic she called “staggering.”
“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 Eanes, Lake Travis and Leander ISD students March 5, continued to test in math, reading and writing.
But the way those areas were 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 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. 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.”
Local districts weigh in
Westlake High School Principal John Carter said the revamped test could prove to be a benefit for students overall as it is more similar to what they learn in EISD schools.
“The move from five to four choices on multiple-choice questions and the removal of the guessing penalty should help to focus on what students know,” he said. “The content on the test and the reading passages will be more aligned with the types of content and literature that students encounter in the classroom. This will lend greater validity to the teaching and material they experience on a daily basis.”
Wendy Sturdevant, associate principal of instruction at Lake Travis High School, said the test has the “potential” to be more beneficial to students by providing them with options, including whether to take the essay portion of the exam.
However, more information is needed regarding the results of the initial March test, she said. To date, only four sample tests from the new SAT format have been released by the College Board, she said.
“Until we have data and scores to review, we are not certain this will end up being a more successful test,” Sturdevant said. “College Board has not released enough specific data of what they mean as a ‘more practical’ test. Everybody is in the dark.”
LTHS’ counseling office encourages students to check with counselors regarding the test requirements for each college they are interested in attending, Sturdevant said.
“Our counseling department counsels students on the schools they are most interested in,” Sturdevant said. “We want to guide them.”
The district also offers students the option of taking a semester-long SAT preparatory class as an elective, Sturdevant said.
“We try to prepare our students for any test by giving them learning strategies and problem-solving techniques,” she said.
Sturdevant said the test scores would be calculated on a different scale than previous SAT exams, and colleges may need to change their minimum acceptance scores as a result.
Both high school officials said the new format will not alter their district’s philosophy on education.
“The changes in the SAT will not affect how Westlake High School teachers provide instruction, since our teachers already incorporate these analytical and higher-order concepts into how and what they teach,” Carter said.
Sturdevant said LTISD students typically do very well on college entrance exams, and she does not expect a big shift as a result of the new format.
“We will continue to do what is best for [students] no matter how [the SAT] is scored,” she said.
Tutoring to the test
Donna Balser, owner of all four Austin-area College Nannies+Tutors sites, including those in Four Points and West Lake Hills, said her office has been recommending to parents that their children prepare for the ACT college entrance exam over the SAT.
“There’s a limited amount of preparatory materials for the new SAT,” she said. “Any time a new test comes out, you’re like a guinea pig.”
The range of ACT scores needed for admission to colleges is known, said Krysta Aguilar, general manager for College Nannies+Tutors. However, what scores colleges will accept for the new SAT is not yet known, she said.
The business has produced a tutoring curriculum and tips for taking the new SAT, Balser said.
“There are some different strategies [for taking the new test],” Aguilar said.
Although the essay is optional, most colleges require applicants to submit that portion of the exam, she said.
“If my kids were taking [a college entrance exam], they would be taking the ACT,” Balser said. “There are too many unknowns [with the new SAT format]. As they get more data, the test will continue to evolve. The more practice a student gets [on a test], the better they will do.”