With clear discrepancies between how test takers from various socioeconomic backgrounds perform on the SAT, is taking out a mandatory essay section and removing trigonometry going to be enough to level the playing field?
The College Board announced Wednesday a sweeping suite of changes to the SAT examination in an attempt to close the socioeconomic gap among test takers.
Among the new changes will be an expansion of the test’s free application waivers for low-income students, free test prep materials via a partnership with the nonprofit Khan Academy, and a removal of the essay section from the mandatory portion of the test.
“What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities,” David Coleman, College Board president, said at a news conference in Austin, Texas. “The real news today is not just the redesigned SAT, but the College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.”
Other announced changes include a return to the 1600-point scoring scale, an option for test takers to take the test either digitally or in print, a removal of the point deduction for wrong answers and an end to the “SAT words” — with the College Board insisting that words in the reading and writing sections “will no longer be vocabulary students may not have heard before and are likely not to hear again,” according to a news release. The exam will instead “focus on words that students will use consistently in college and beyond.”
The new test will require more analytical and problem-solving skills. Test takers will be required to cite from source materials and effectively interpret and analyze those materials to answer questions. The math section has been narrowed to understanding ratios and proportions, linear algebra and calculus-related functions. As trigonometry is no longer included in the test, calculators will no longer be allowed during the test. The essay section will also be scored on the strength of the argument presented as well as writing skills. The essay score, however, will be separate from the main score.
It has been argued that the SAT made the essay section optional to better compete with the ACT, which has surpassed the SAT as the nation’s leading college admissions test.
“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming but the challenging learning students do every day,” said Coleman.
According to analysis from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), there is a clear correlation between family income and scores on standardized tests. While students with a family income between $0 and $20,000 scored 1326 out of 2400 last year, students with a family income greater than $200,000 scored 1714.
Meanwhile, test takers identifying as American Indian scored 149 points below their white counterparts, on average. African Americans scored 299 points below white students, while Mexican-American and non-Mexican Hispanic students scored 221 points less and 222 points less than their white counterparts, respectively.
FairTest argues that the SAT reforms will do little to address these discrepancies.
“The College Board’s failure to tackle the SAT’s historic weaknesses means that more schools will go test-optional. Since the 2005 introduction of a flawed ‘new’ SAT, nearly 100 additional colleges and universities dropped admissions exam requirements. A recent research report demonstrating that test-optional admissions policies enhance both diversity and academic quality will further accelerate this movement. The truth is no one needs the SAT, either ‘old’ or ‘new.’”
Research has suggested that test preparation and academic success are not the only rationale to justify the socioeconomic differences in test scores. Research from Stanford University suggests that students aware of class, gender or racial stereotypes are likely to play them out unknowingly in regards to taking tests like the SAT. The internal analysis of their performance and how they may be perceived tend to draw focus and attention away from simply taking the test.
The new SAT will be available in 2016.