SAT also becoming more like the ACT

by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - The essay portion of the SATs soon will become optional, although some colleges may still require it. Grahams offers some college-oriented books including this one, College Admission Essays for Dummies.For years, critics have encouraged the nonprofit College Board to revamp its signature SAT test — and an updated version is on its way that addresses key areas of debate and brings the test closer to an incoming state test and the ACT.

The College Board announced March 5 what the essential changes will be. Lake Oswego School District staff offered a presentation to the school board on March 10 on how the current college entrance exam compares to the new one and how it will align with the soon-to-come Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests.

Director of Secondary Education Donna Atherton told the board that the PSAT, which doubles as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is slated to arrive in 2015, and the revamped SAT is coming in 2016. While reviewing the current and incoming SATs, Atherton said she saw some familiar language. She presented to the board a document comparing the current and future SATs to the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium standardized testing in English/language arts and math, which begins in spring 2015. The SBAC tests are based on the Common Core State Standards, a multi-state-led initiative to change curriculum. Local schools already are implementing Common Core curriculum. Changes to the SAT align with SBAC testing, Atherton said.

SBAC assessments, which will replace Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, are a group of tests required to graduate high school, and they will, for example, include a greater focus on creating logical arguments supported with research and sound reasoning. The redesigned SAT will involve evidence-based reading and writing portions, something the current SAT does not involve.

Board member Bob Barman asked Atherton what differentiates the SAT from the ACT.

“I would say it’s a lot of writing and analyzing text,” she said. The SAT is “very heavy into analyzing source documents and being able to pull from those source documents an analysis, a reflection.”

Barman said he sees similarities between the overhauled SAT and the ACT, another college entrance exam, including no more penalty for wrong answers.

Board member John Wendland said the College Board changed the SAT to better compete with ACT.

“SAT has been losing market share to ACT,” Wendland said.

Between 2006 and 2013, the SAT’s market share dropped from 55 percent to 48 percent, according to an analysis by Nick Anderson, reporter for The Washington Post.

The ACT has no essay, and the new SAT will have an optional essay, although some colleges may still require an essay. The change will drop the SAT score from 2,400 back to the familiar 1,600 that disappeared with the oft-criticized essay’s arrival in 2005. Shortly after, the SAT’s popularity began to drop, and the ACT’s popularity began to increase.

“The addition of a writing section to the SAT has long been a source of controversy because of the anticipated effect on recent immigrants and minorities,” according to National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Testing Commission Report in September 2008.

Test scores dropped an average of 20 points from 2006 to 2012, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. The group also has performed analyses that indicate the average SAT score for male, white test takers is higher.

“According to the College Board’s exam, many students are even less ready for college than they were six years ago,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest. “If you believe the College Board’s claim that the SAT accurately assesses readiness for higher education, the logical conclusion is that test-driven K-12 school policies have been a colossal failure.”

Some critics called the entrance exam a barrier for low-income students. The College Board’s website states its members had called upon it to redesign the SAT, and the organization announced that every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply to college. College Board also is partnering with Khan Academy, a nonprofit that provides free online educational materials, to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT.

“What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities,” College Board President David Coleman said in a prepared statement March 5. “The real news today is not just the redesigned SAT, but the College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.”

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