Area students take first administration of newly revamped SAT in MarchHigh school students across the country, including those in Alvin, Friendswood and Pearland ISDs, took the first administration of an entirely redesigned SAT on March 5.

College Board, the nonprofit organization that designs and administers the SAT, made significant changes to one of the most popular college aptitude tests in the U.S.

According to College Board officials, the new format does away with the vocabulary section and adds in more straight-forward questions based on real-world college and career concepts.

Jackie Caffey, Alvin ISD director of advanced academics, said the new test better aligns with what students are taught in school.

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—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 [a] 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 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 SAT underwent a major change was in 2005.

New test, new features

Area students take first administration of newly revamped SAT in MarchThe new SAT will continue to test math, reading and writing skills. However, the way those areas are 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,” 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.”

Schmeiser said College Board made the essay optional in order to be as consumer-friendly as possible.

“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,” she said.

College Board also changed the way students are able to prepare for the test. As an alternative to costly SAT practice courses and study materials, College Board partnered with Kahn Academy to offer free practice materials online.

“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. Frankly, they are finding the questions to be very clear and straightforward, so we are excited and very optimistic.”

Margo Gigee, Pearland ISD director of advanced academics, said the free resources online are good tools to target students’ trouble spots.

“Students can take a practice test on the Kahn Academy website, and it will diagnose their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “[The site] gives them opportunities to practice in the area they need practice rather than just [taking] another practice test.”

Local preparation

Area students take first administration of newly revamped SAT in MarchGigee said PISD began to adjust its SAT preparation efforts when College Board announced the new testing format a couple of years ago.

Following the announcement, PISD officials attended numerous conferences and workshops hosted by College Board to review the SAT changes.

Nancy Lockhart, Friendswood High School associate principal, said the district held an SAT prep training for teachers in early March.

PISD, like AISD, offers an SAT course for high school students.

“We had quite a few students sign up for that [class],” Caffey said. “We’re very excited about that because we saw some good results.”

College Board selected AISD for a pilot testing program next school year, Caffey said. As part of the program, a portion of seniors will take a practice SAT online while others will take the traditional paper test to compare results on the different platforms.

In addition, all three districts administer the PSAT, an SAT prep test, once a year to students free of charge.

“The PSAT in October gave the students a preview of what the [new] SAT will look like,” Gigee said.

Officials said student feedback has been positive in readying for the new test. Caffey said she expects better results from the changes.

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.

Cumberland said students will need to have more stamina as a result of the revamped format.

“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. It’s good to use breaks to get up, walk around, stretch or get a drink of water.”

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.”

Still, Gigee said, students’ SAT success will hinge on the same principle as the old format: effort.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the SAT, math or baseball; when you practice you develop some skills,” she said. “Just like you would not practice for a baseball game only three weeks before, you don’t practice for an SAT just three weeks before the test.”