Recently Unveiled Changes to SAT Draw Praise, Concern

After the announcement early Wednesday afternoon that the SAT will undergo major changes in coming years, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid praised the revisions revealed for the popular standardized test, which other admissions experts cautioned raise many unanswered questions.

Beginning in the spring of 2016, the SAT will feature two mandatory sections: math and a new section called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing,” which is meant to combine the existing writing and critical reading sections. The new SAT will also include an optional essay and will test students’ abilities to construct analytical arguments from provided material.

Currently, the SAT consists of three sections: critical reading, mathematics, and writing, which has both a multiple choice and a mandatory essay component. The highest possible score is 2400.

The revised SAT will revert back to its previous 1600-point score, which was last used in 2004. Students will no longer receive a penalty for wrong answers in the new versiona scoring system similar to that of the ACT.

The new math section will draw from fewer topics, namely those that “most contribute to student readiness for college and career training,” according to the College Board.

The new combined reading and writing section will replace obscure SAT vocabulary words with words, such as “synthesis” and “empirical,” that are more commonly seen in college and the workplace. Reading selections will additionally feature a wide range of topics, such as science, history, and social studies.

In addition, at least one of the reading selections will feature a passage from an American “Founding Document,” such as The Declaration of Independence, or a text from “Great Global Conversation,” such as a selection from Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Parke P. Muth, a former associate dean of admissions and director of international admissions at the University of Virginia, said that the proposed changes in the SAT coincide with a combination of concerns over the test, including the College Board losing the market share to the ACT, the income disparities in scores, and the questionable power of the SAT to predict college success.

“If you’ve made the test somewhat easier in terms of what you are studying for...but if it’s easier, does that mean more people will get a higher score? And if not, will you still have the same distribution?” said Muth, who now runs his own college consulting company and blog.

Muth added that it is also unclear whether the revised SAT’s reading sections will benefit American students or provide more global documents so that international test takers will not be at a disadvantage.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, who chaired a committee that offered specific recommendations on standardized testing to the College Board in 2008, praised the proposed reforms.

“These reforms send an important signal to high school students across America,” wrote Fitzsimmons in an email to the Crimson. “If you work hard in the classroom on a daily basis, you will significantly improve your chances of doing well on the SAT, getting into the college of your choice, graduating and succeeding in your chosen career. Most important of all, you will be better able to embrace learning in all its forms, from the humanities to the social sciences, the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.”

Fitzsimmons also lauded the College Board for considering the recommendations that he and his committee offered, noting that the changes to the SAT could have a global impact.

“I want to commend David Coleman and the College Board for implementing a number of the specific recommendations included in our 2008 report on the use of standardized tests in undergraduate admissions,” Fitzsimmons wrote.  “These changes will enable us better to educate and inspire future citizens and leaders of the nation and the world."

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at theodore.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on twitter @trdelwic.

Tags