SAT slated to see changes to point scale, essays as soon as 2016

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Big changes may be coming to the SAT as early as 2016 in what would be the first major revision of the test since 2005, after an announcement by the College Board Wednesday.

The new exam — which will be administered both digitally and in print — will adjust the tested vocabulary, narrow the topics tested in the math section, make the essay optional and eliminate the quarter-point reductions for wrong answers in the multiple choice section, also known as the guessing penalty. The SAT will also return to the original 1600-point scale.

Samples of the test with full explanations of the changes will be released by the College Board on April 16.

According to Kate Levin, College Board’s associate director of communications, teachers and educational leaders in primary, secondary and postsecondary education helped shape the SAT’s new design to better evaluate “college and career readiness.”

As states ease into adopting the Common Core State Standards for education, the College Board is trying to incorporate nationwide standards for curricula and instruction into the SAT. Alan Schoenfeld, UC Berkeley professor at the Graduate School of Education, said it makes good sense for the SAT to align itself with the Common Core.

“In the days of the Common Core, with everyone supposedly studying the same math, defined as college and career ready, a test not aligned with those standards (seems) superfluous,” Schoenfeld said in an email.

In light of this, the College Board will tighten its focus in math assessments by testing fewer skill sets, such as problem-solving, data analysis and basic algebra. A calculator will no longer be allowed in some of the math sections. Similarly, in the reading comprehension sections, the new exam will test language used regularly in college rather than words that “students may not have heard before and are likely not to hear again,” according to a College Board press release.

While students will no longer be required to write an essay for the SAT, many colleges may still recommend that applicants test on this portion and submit their scores — including the University of California, which was important in reforming the exam to include an essay in 2005.

But whether the UC system — the largest customer of the SAT, according to the Los Angeles Times — will continue to require the essay for its application process remains to be seen. The decision would lie in a special faculty committee in charge of delineating admissions standards, said Stephen Handel, the UC system’s associate vice president for undergraduate admissions.

The College Board is also planning to improve assistance to low-income students by working with Khan Academy to introduce online SAT test-preparation tutorials for free and by providing eligible students fee waivers to apply to college.

Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network, an association of college access success programs that supports low-income students before and during college, felt that removing these financial hurdles would send a powerful message to students.

“High-ability, low-income students oftentimes won’t apply to college, and these students are extraordinary,” Handel said. “In a low-income household, it’s hard to prepare yourself well for college, and you have these stellar students out there who aren’t even applying.”

Contact Bo Kovitz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.