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College Board's Coleman: New SAT Helping Wider Range of Students

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Boston, Mass.

The president of the College Board hinted Tuesday that the new SAT has enabled a broader range of students to perform well on the college-admissions exam.

In an appearance at the Education Writers Association national seminar here, David Coleman said that early data suggest that "a wider set of students can show their talents" on the newly redesigned SAT, which made its debut March 5, than on the previous version of the test.

Coleman wouldn't provide further details, since the data are still preliminary. But he mentioned the early direction in the data because it reflects a pivotal part of his agenda: making the college-preparation and admissions process more accessible to students who have struggled to participate in it.

In the same spirit, Coleman said that not-yet-released data about students' use of the Khan Academy's free SAT practice, provided in a partnership with the College Board, suggest that its reach has been large.

Almost half of all students who took the March 5 SAT used Khan Academy, compared to 10 percent who used other test-prep services, the College Board's media office said. According to spokesman Zach Goldberg, far more students use the Khan Academy than the number who use other test-prep services in a year, and that pattern holds "in every income bracket." The College Board also revealed a tidbit about the socioeconomic profile of students using Khan Academy: The median household income for users is $75,978, about the same as that of the overall SAT-taking population.

The College Board didn't release more definitive data today, but anticipates doing so in the coming months. In his comments at the EWA meeting, Coleman urged reporters to hold the organization accountable—"push us, embarrass us," he said—for fulfilling its promises to expand college opportunity for more students.

Coleman also said the College Board is teaming up with the College Advising Corps to create a "virtual counseling" system that will enable more students to get the guidance and advice of experienced college counselors. College advising is a well-documented weakness in many high schools.

Eric Hoover, a senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education, hosted the conversation with Coleman in a room full of reporters at the EWA meeting. He asked how the public should judge the new SAT, and Coleman returned to his equity agenda, noting that it involves much more than just the redesigned exam.

Coleman said he wants the SAT and all of its accompanying initiatives—such as granting waivers for college application fees, making test prep widely available through the Khan Academy, and using Khan supports to improve classroom instruction—to work together to boost the number of students getting into—and through—college. The question that interests him most now, Coleman said, is whether districts and teachers are using those various initiatives to help  students strengthen their academic skills and ready themselves for college.

The SAT has been criticized for perpetuating student achievement disparities that spring from socioeconomic disadvantage. Coleman said he is very aware of that problem, and acknowledged that his company's efforts will not "balance out inequities at home and in school. But they're a step," he said.

His aim is to use data from the new SAT, and a cluster of College Board initiatives, to expand outreach to students who aren't taking advantage of their potential to take challenging classes and go to college. He cited data showing that students at selective colleges come disproportionately from families in the upper half of the income strata. What Coleman wants, he said, is to "disrupt that privilege."

"It would be crazy" to think that simply changing the SAT will accomplish that goal, Coleman said. For that, he's depending on the suite of initiatives the College Board has launched, such as the fee waivers and the Khan Academy test-practice program.

Coleman expressed the hope that students aren't sitting alone in front of computers, with no adult guidance, as they use Khan Academy. He envisions that the program is used by students in conjunction with "caring adults" who offer guidance and instructional support, through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America—another College Board partner—or school districts. He mentioned Fresno, Calif.; Long Beach, Calif.; and Orlando, Fla., as districts that are using the Khan Academy supports instructionally.

"It's one thing to provide these tools. It's another to encourage their adoption and use in a way that's truly equal and productive," he said.


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