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Some Early Reactions to Just-Released Scores From the New SAT

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By guest blogger Caralee Adams

At first glance, many students were pleasantly surprised when they got the results of the new March SAT on Tuesday.  Test-takers generally scored higher on the College Board's redesigned college-admission exam compared to the old one.

But with a different test, there is a different scale.

And along with those pesky concordance tables, came disappointment for some. Others were just confused about what the numbers meant for their hopes of getting into a target college.

"I'm not sure kids entirely realize yet that there are these differences in the scores," said Sally Rubenstone, who monitored student comments online this week for College Confidential, where she is a senior adviser. "These new scores are giving students a false sense of where they stand."

To know how their scores translate into admission chances, students need to compare the new test results to old SAT scores using conversation charts available online or on a free app provided by the College Board Monday. For instance, a math score of 510 on the new SAT is equivalent to a 470 on the old test. The new scale tops out at 1,600, rather than 2,400, and the writing section is optional.

Some Confusion, Stress

The College Board redesigned the SAT, which debuted March 5, to be more aligned with what students learn in high school, and now many say it looks more like the ACT. It eliminated obscure vocabulary, reduced the answer choices from five to four, took away the penalty for guessing, introduced evidence-based reading and writing, and changed the math content.  

Audrey von Raesfeld, a junior at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, Calif., said she was less fatigued coming out of the new SAT, compared to the old one, which felt was like "mental gymnastics." And her scores from March were slightly higher, compared to the SAT she took in January. However, it's difficult to know what the new score means for her dream to get into Brown University through its early admission process.

"I'm very confused about how it affects the pool overall," says von Raesfeld. "[Applying for college] is already a stressful thing to be doing and this is just another factor to be considering."

Audrey's counselor, David Rion, said he feels "awful" for students in this year's junior class who have had to navigate on shifting ground with changes in testing, financial aid policies, and applications. "I don't feel like our students feel like they totally know what they can expect," he said.

That's in part because most colleges have not yet updated their materials based on the new SAT scores, as admission officers are focused on their fall freshman class and managing their wait lists. College Board officials hope that by the new academic year colleges will have modified their information to reflect the new scale.

"There is tremendous misunderstanding with the new scores," said Cristiana Quinn, an independent college counselor with College Admission Advisors in Providence, R.I. While she can help her students figure out what it means for their college chances, she worries about those in under-resourced schools. "For students where guidance departments are overburdened to begin with, those departments are not going to have time to recalculate the scores. Many are so busy that they don't even now understand yet what is going on," she said.

To address those concerns, the College Board provided information directly to students through its website, said Stacy Caldwell, the vice president of college-readiness assessments. The New York-based testing organization has also produced a video, hosted webinars and posted explanatory material on its website.

Score Rollout Begins

Caldwell says the March scores were released on time and the overall process has gone smoothly. "We are pretty happy with the reaction we've been getting," to the concordance information, she said, adding that the new scoring reports give more detailed feedback to students on their performance.

SAT testing volume was up slightly from 456,000 test-takers March 2015 to 463,000 this March, driven by 186,000 students who took the School Day SAT, which is where all juniors take the test as the College Board expands into statewide markets, according to Caldwell.  Just how students performed overall on this test compared to the old SAT will not be known until the fall, when the College Board releases its annual report, but Caldwell said it does not expect much change.

As with the new PSAT scores released in January, some counselors said they wanted more lead time to understand the new SAT scoring before students received their results.

While there has been some consternation in the counseling world, the transition from the old to new SAT calls for some patience, said Phil Trout, the president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. 

"Some of the angst is really just unnecessary. It's a new test so let's allow the company the time to be able to get the scoring mechanism right," said Trout, who is also a school counselor in Minnetonka, Minn.

Indeed, Trout contends that for the vast majority of juniors, the March SAT is the first time they took the exam so there is no comparison to make: "This is the only SAT score they have," he said.

The College Board concordance tables include comparisons to the ACT, which the Iowa City, Iowa, testing organization has taken issue with in a letter posted on its website May 11

Trout is among many counselors who have advised students this year to take the ACT instead while the SAT works through the change. At Sonoma Academy, more students took the ACT than in the past because many felt there wasn't enough test-preparation material available for the new SAT, said Rion, the Sonoma Academy counselor.

Adam Ingersoll, founder and principal at Compass Education Group, a California-based test-preparation company, said he generally likes the changes to the SAT and the new conversion app was "trailblazing," but he has issues with the College Board's rollout of the PSAT and SAT. "We've gotten lots of phone calls from confused parents and students," he said. "It's incumbent on College Board to anticipate the confusion that is likely to occur. It should not be hard for them to do," said Ingersoll, adding that the debate and anxiety is self-inflicted by the organization.

Daniel Koobatian, a junior at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Conn., took the old SAT in January, the new SAT in March, and plans to take the ACT in June. "The junior year is a year of test-taking," he said.

While his March SAT scores are not posted yet, Daniel says he knows to keep perspective.  "I'm not focused on comparing them because each one of them is a different test," said Daniel. "I'm not exactly losing sleep over it, but it would be nice to know those scores. It's been so long that it's not as much of a priority for me now."

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