The Proposed Redesign of the SAT

2012 proved to be a challenging year for the College Board and its SAT.

For the first time since the SAT’s inaugural administration in 1926, another test, the ACT, was administered to more students. Though the ACT nosed ahead by a mere 2,000 students, the repercussions are still reverberating throughout the College Board headquarters in New York City. By fall of last year, the College Board had selected a new president, David Coleman. By February, Coleman wrote to his fellow board members: “While the SAT is the best standardized measure of college and career readiness currently available, the College Board has a responsibility to the millions of students we serve each year to ensure that our programs are continuously evaluated and enhanced…” (www.insidehighered.com, 10 April 2013, College Board Announces Plans to Redesign the SAT by Scott Jaschik)

No specifics were given.

The last, and only time, the SAT was overhauled was in 2005, when it discarded the analogy section and added the writing section, at the request of the University of California.

By 2008, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) released a report suggesting colleges should reconsider the need for standardized tests. Over the same period of time, over 80 additional 4-year colleges adopted test-optional or test flexible policies. Today over 38% of all four-year colleges are either test flexible or test optional and the list contains such highly selective schools as Middlebury, NYU, and Wake Forest.

Obviously the 2005 overhaul did not effectively qualm the concerns of the test-taking market. This was reflected most starkly in the comments by Robert Schaeffer, the director of Fair Test and an inveterate critic of the SAT: “…the previous attempt to create a ‘new Coke’ was rejected by the marketplace, so it became necessary to ‘reformulate’ the product once again in order to remain competitive with the ACT.” (Ibid.)

Though we can only speculate at what the new SAT will be like, there are a few clues as to what might lie ahead.

David Coleman who attended Yale, studied English literature at Oxford on a Rhodes and co-founded, in 2007, the Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization involved in developing Common Core standards, appears intent on incorporating these Common Core standards into the SAT. (A Common Standard for reading at the 11-12th grade level, for example, would be, “Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development.” The full suite of Common Core standards can be found at http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/R.) He wrote in his College Board February missive: “The 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.”

That, however, is what the ACT has been doing for decades with its ‘College Readiness Standards’ across its entire suite of tests: EXPLORE, PLAN, and the ACT. When hearing of the proposed SAT redesign, a spokesman for the ACT commented that the, “ACT was founded 54 years ago because ETS and College Board rejected EF Lindquist’s proposal to change the SAT from an aptitude test to an achievement test. Dr. Lindquist, along with co-founder Ted McCarrell subsequently decided to develop his own achievement test, which became the ACT in 1959…” (Ibid.)

Coleman, in a 2011 speech at the Brookings Institute, prior to his becoming president of the College Board, also noted weaknesses in the essay portion of the SAT. Rather than allow students to blithely supply their own examples he felt source examples should be added for students to review and edit to make their arguments more cogent and exacting.  

Another redesign within eight years of its last overhaul indicates the SAT is undergoing an identity crisis. Initially, the SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test. The IQ association, and the scorn that brought, led the College Board to change the acronym to Scholastic Assessment Test. Now it’s just the SAT. Possibly in the future it will mirror the ACT—which makes you wonder whether test-takers will then clamor for SAT Classic.

With this redesign, the College Board will lose much more than a quarter point if it makes the wrong choice.