Five Thoughts On The New SAT

The big education news yesterday was the revised SAT announced by College Board President David Coleman. Underneath all the jokes about vocabulary words you don’t have to know anymore it’s a serious shift. How serious? Five thoughts:

1) The underlying story seems to be how much the SAT is changing in response to the Common Core – which Coleman was a key architect of.  It’s traditionally been a test that by design wasn’t tied to high school standards or curricula. That’s changing and shows that the College Board thinks those issues are where the action is going to be – not the traditional ACT – SAT rivalry (although the ACT test is more oriented in that direction now).

2) The focus on the SAT does highlight the east coast/west coast bias in our national conversation colleges.  More students take the ACT than the SAT but most people in influential positions in media took the SAT.  The SAT matters and the signaling effects of this change are enormous, but the educational sun in this country doesn’t rise and set on ‘board scores’  alone.

3) David’s commitment to equity is as deep as it is admirable and the steps the College Board is taking to try to level the test prep playing field are sound ones. But the parental anxiety industry may be second only to the porn industry in terms of persistent and insatiable demand.  Affluent parents will continue to take whatever steps they think might help their children gain an edge.  It’s an old story.

4) You’re hard-pressed to find people with deep affection the SAT even within higher education.  But it’s an efficient tool for college admissions, that’s what accounts for its “popularity.” The predictive power isn’t great, but it’s there. Grades can predict, too, but the SAT is efficient.  So this isn’t a love affair, it’s a marriage neither side can afford to end.

5) Back to 1600. Your old score suddenly sounds good again!

Disc – I’ve known David for a long time in a few capacities and Bellwether consults for ACT – on public policy issues and analysis unrelated to the college admissions test.

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