Thursday, July 24, 2014
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EDIT: SAT gets a makeover

President of College Board David Coleman announced Wednesday that he will revamp the SATs to make them less elitist and more representative of undergraduate skills.

Or, at least, as non-elitist and representative as a standardized test like this can be.

These reforms will change the fundamental way the SAT is structured, and will focus more on a high school student’s critical thinking rather than memorization skills. Available in print and computer format in 2016, this new version will have three sections — evidence-based reading and writing, a math section and an optional essay. It will return to a 1600-point scale, eliminating the obligatory essays that have daunted high school juniors and seniors for years.

Coleman has also revamped the math section to focus on a wider range of topics, such as linear equations, functions and proportional thinking. Additionally, the stacks of flash cards filled with rare and archaic words such as “remuneration” and “labyrinthe” can now be replaced with more common, yet important words in our English language such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

Among many other far-reaching changes, the greatest reform Coleman is looking to make is closing the socioeconomic gap that College Board tests tend to create among college aspirants.

“What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities,” said Coleman at a College Board event in Austin, Texas, Wednesday. “The real news today is not just the redesigned SAT, but the College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.”

In an attempt to close this inequality gap and offer SAT tutoring to a wider range of students, College Board has paired up with Khan Academy, a nonprofit that offers free world-class online tutoring to anyone, anywhere. So now, each student who wants to take the SAT will have access to sophisticated, interactive and free online tutoring.

“For too long, there’s been a well-known imbalance between students who could afford test-prep courses and those who couldn’t,” said Sal Khan, founder and executive director of Khan Academy, at the Wednesday College Board conference. “We’re thrilled to collaborate closely with the College Board to level the playing field by making truly world-class test-prep materials freely available to all students.”

Although Coleman has made a valiant attempt at bridging the achievement gap in higher education, kids from wealthier families will always have a financial leg up on those from modest means. Through these changes, the achievement gap isn’t going to shrink, but rather it is going to shift upwards. Paring with Khan Academy is an honorable first step at dealing with this problem, but it is still hard to compete with the benefits expensive one-on-one tutoring can offer a kid.

Regardless of this unfortunate trend in our society, Coleman is revamping the SAT for the better. By focusing more on proportional math equations and testing kids on everyday vocabulary words, this test is now more focused on how our brains work, rather than just what we can memorize from flash cards and cheat sheets.

Similar to the ACT, the SAT will no longer deduct points for incorrect answers. Although this provision will change the strategy students use to take the test, it will by no means reduce the stress factor. There are some things about the SAT that just cannot be changed for the better. As long as they are around, these tests will always drive kids into a frenzy of stress, crush self confidence and keep qualified kids from schools they deserve to be in.

But, at the same time, just as tutors, parents and guidance counselors have and always will preach to discouraged students, colleges need to standardize their applicants some how.

Even Coleman admits that a student’s high school transcript is a much better way to judge them academically. Yet, an A at an inner-city school and an A at an elite school could mean two different things.

Sometimes kids who deserve to be in those top-ranked schools are stuck with an inner-city education, and other times, kids in the elite private schools are only there because their parents have the money — sometimes it really is just about the luck of the draw. And as annoying as it is to define a person’s potential for success in college based on a number, there is a valid reason behind this method.

By finally revamping the fundamentals of this test, College Board is well on their way to making the SAT at least somewhat bearable for college aspirants.

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