The College Board, which writes the SAT and administers the test to millions of high school students every year, has announced plans to overhaul the test under its new President, David Coleman. —
In a letter sent to member institutions, Coleman wrote, "An improved SAT will strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills that evidence shows are most important to prepare students for the rigors of college and career." In the same letter, Coleman called the overhaul to the test "an ambitious endeavor."
Coleman has gained some notoriety in the fields of education and politics through his efforts in the development of the Common Core program of state educational standards. Many observers expect that Coleman's vision for the next iteration of the SAT will incorporate the philosophy behind the Common Core program.
Online reaction indicates that many high school students and their parents are concerned about the upcoming changes, and what the will mean to students' futures. The SAT was most recently changed in 2005. Those changes saw the inclusion of a new SAT Writing section. Many SAT takers wondered if the SAT Writing section could be specially prepared for. And now many are wondering if the changes Coleman has described will make it harder to prepare for the SAT.
Mike Barrett says that the new SAT changes need not worry students or their parents. Barrett is the author of the "SAT Prep Black Book," which consistently ranks in the top 5 books in Amazon's SAT category. "The SAT is, by definition, a standardized test," Barrett wrote in an email. "It only has value to colleges and universities because it consistently tests the same skills in the same way, so it allows schools to make more useful comparisons among students from different educational backgrounds."
Barrett says the new SAT will need to follow the same plan in order to remain relevant. "I'm not saying that the future version of the SAT will look exactly like the current version," he writes. "In fact, they may look almost nothing alike. Perhaps Coleman plans to gut the entire thing and start over. At this point, nobody outside the College Board really has any way of knowing what will go and what will remain, if anything. But, no matter what kinds of questions are on the next version of the test, those questions will have to be standardized in some way, or else the test won't be useful to admissions committees. And it will be possible to unlock those design standards through careful analysis of real test questions, and then teach students how to score high on the test by exploiting the weaknesses in its design. Standardization always means predictability, if you know where to look, and predictability in a test is always a weakness for a test and an advantage for an informed student."
Barrett also points out that changes to the SAT usually take years to implement. This means it is very unlikely that any 11th- or 12th-graders in 2013 will confront the next version of the SAT before they graduate. Today's 8th- and 9th-graders may encounter the next version of the test, however, depending on how quickly the College Board moves to implement Coleman's vision.
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