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Education Community Discusses What Redesigned SAT Will Mean to Students

The College Board unveiled elements of the newly redesigned SAT in broad brush strokes last week and now the education community is awaiting details in Phase 2 of the roll out, slated for April 16. That's when the New York City-based nonprofit that develops and administers the SAT will present full test specifications and sample test questions for the revamped college-entrance exam.

The new SAT, which is expected to debut in the spring of 2016, promises to better reflect what students are learning in high school. The outline also bears a striking resemblance to key aspects of the Common Core State Standards, which College Board President David Coleman helped to write before he joined the testing organization. Our Education Week story includes a side-by-side chart comparing the blueprint for the new SAT with the common core.

By steering away from rare vocabulary words and only giving credit for correct answers, College Board officials say the new SAT should be less about cramming and test-taking strategy and more about what students know from reading and taking rigorous courses.

"This is a big step and a huge change for the College Board to bring the SAT in line with more 21st century assessments, which has everything aligned with college- and career-readiness. This really brings the SAT much closer with those goals of our education system," said Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst at National Association of School Boards Association.

(For additional reaction to the College Board's plans, check out this blog post from last week.)

Eventually, Hull said, he hopes with schools and testing organizations on the same page that more students will be deemed college- and career-ready. However, he anticipates in the short-term there may be a drop in SAT scores because schools will just be starting to implement the common core— and scores will climb as students are exposed to the new standards for more years.

As researchers examine students' scores over time, Hull notes that the SAT changes will present some challenges in making comparisons. The top score will return to 1,600 from 2,400 and the critical reading, math, and writing sections will become evidence-based reading and writing, math, and an optional essay.

The College Board's emphasis on the new SAT being more fair and open, as well as providing services around the test drew was embraced by some who serve disadvantaged students. 

Kim Cook, the executive director of the National College Access Network, said providing students with free online test prep through the Khan Academy will be particularly helpful to NCAN's community-based partners that work to prepare low-income students for college, said Cook. Rather than purchasing materials or hiring experts to come into the classroom, free online access will save the organization money. "There are some very positive steps toward equity," in the College Board announcement, she said.

Giving four fee waivers directly to students to use on college applications will also eliminate a potential barrier for students who would otherwise have to ask a counselor for the waiver.

"It should encourage students to apply to a variety of colleges," said Cook. High-achieving, low-income students not stretching themselves to go to selective schools— or "undermatching" — has been a problem recently highlighted by researchers and the Obama administration in its White House college access summit earlier this year.

While the College Board's plans will help, Cook said, she noted that equity issues remain. Access to certain rigorous classes and quality teachers are still a challenge in many low-income schools, she said.

Christina Theokas, the research director at the Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy group for low-income and minority students, said that while she believes the ideas presented by the College Board last week were good, what matters now is how that gets translated into rigorous practices in the school, particularly for disadvantaged students. "If it's not getting into their schools, it's not going to help," she said. 

A piece in the Atlantic this week emphasized that the new common core standards, as well as the rival ACT Inc., were driving the College Board to change the SAT. It will be interesting to see if the revisions to the SAT, which many say bring it closer to looking like the curriculum-based ACT, will indeed help it regain some of its market share. ACT Inc. is surpassing the SAT, in part, because it now has agreements to offers its test to all high school juniors in 13 states with plans to expand to three more states next year, ACT officials say.

Meanwhile, Education Week's Leadership 360 blog has a nice round-up of reaction to the redesigned SAT, highlighting how the news has some school leaders "scratching their heads" and wondering about the College Board's grand scheme. "Once the SAT is changed and accepted as the proper measure of a student suited for postsecondary schooling, our work to prepare our students must follow," wrote Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers, leadership experts in the K-12 field.

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