The Redesigned SAT

At last the new redesigned SAT was formerly announced on 5 March 2014 ending months of speculation about its content.

The new test content will be first administered in the fall 2015 PSAT, with the SAT launch in ‘spring 2016.’  

The New SAT will eliminate the quarter point guessing penalty, obviate ‘obscure vocabulary’ from its reading sections—stressing discovery of meaning through context, and require students to support their answers to reading questions from evidence supplied in the passage.

On the mathematics front, the New SAT will focus on problem solving and data analysis (ratios, percentages, and proportions), linear equations and systems, and something that sounds a bit daunting, “Passport to Advanced Math” which deals with ‘manipulation of complex equations’. In essence the New SAT will be narrowing its math focus to the three aforementioned areas (though it reserves the right to add or change areas as needed to ensure its math questions are applicable to a wide range of majors and careers).         

The problems a student will encounter in the New SAT are based on ‘real-world contexts’.  For this it will offer ‘evidence-based reading and writing sections’ with questions that  cover literature and ‘literary non-fiction’  including charts, graphs and prose, similar to what can be found in science, social science majors and careers. These are the same type of questions addressed in the ACT Science section, and in its social science and natural science reading passages.

Moreover, the redesigned SAT will also have questions that will make students apply their suite of skills to ‘science, history, and social studies’.

Any seasoned high school counselor who hears this description without the words, “ redesigned New SAT” would leap to the conclusion that it describes the ACT, but, admittedly, there are some unique additions that make the New SAT a shade or two different.         

Specifically, the New SAT will now offer, for lack of a better description, a ‘Great Books’ section that  features a selection from America’s founding documents, such as the Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, or a text from the ‘Great Global conversation’ about freedom, justice, and human dignity.         

Furthermore, the writing section (with its improving, correcting, and editing sentences) will be optional. This is surprising as the addition of the SAT Writing subject test was the major redesign feature added to the 2005 SAT facelift (at the insistence of the University of California which if denied would have eliminated the SAT admissions requirement). Many institutions, however, don’t even consider the writing score in their admissions calculations.

The redesigned SAT will be three hours long, with an additional 50 minutes allocated to the essay. It will also return to its pre-2005 1600 point scale (the essay score will be reported separately), and will have both a print and online version.

Lastly, the redesigned SAT will attempt to curtail the need for expensive test prep services by allying with Khan Academy ( which will offer 200 videos, free, covering the main topics of the test.

When Donald Coleman made the announcement of the changes to the test, he opined, “It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools… [students] are skeptical that either the SAT or the ACT allows them to show their best work…”  A more accurate description would have been that the ACT, which is already well situated to assess the curriculum-based skills that are at the foundation of Donald Coleman’s Common Core State Standards, is now being joined by the redesigned SAT. We know curriculum-based testing has worked well for the ACT, as it’s now the dominant standardized test in America.  The SAT covets a place at the ACT table. How the test taker and the college admissions offices benefit from having two curriculum-based tests is anyone’s guess.   

New SAT Delayed

In February of 2013 the new president of the College Board, David Coleman, announced a complete redesign of the SAT would be unveiled in the spring of 2015: this has been delayed a year.

The new SAT format will be contained in the fall 2015 PSAT with the revised SAT releasing in spring 2016. Robert Schaeffer of Fair Test, ever the sceptic of College Board endeavors, opined: “I always thought that David Coleman’s initial target of a spring 2015 rollout for the latest ‘new’ SAT was incredibly optimistic, given the College Board’s normal process for developing items.”

This delay, though, shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Ostensibly, the reason Mr. Coleman gives for delaying the release is that many of the admissions departments were requesting more time to prepare for the adjustment. Yet, there is a lot that has to be accomplished in 18 months. The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) need to be implemented across the 45 states that have signed up, then the assessment of the CCSS, which will become the new SAT, needs to be finalized, and lastly the College Board needs to get as many states as possible to adopt the new SAT as a mandatory statewide assessment tool.  A delay is not surprising, whether or not the cause is the admissions officers.

So where did the CCSS come from and are its objectives achievable? CCSS originated in the National Governors Association for best practices among high schools. Dr. Louisa Moats, a well-known researcher, teacher, and psychologist was recruited in the CCSS effort in 2009 by David Coleman to write the ‘Reading Foundation Skills’ section. The skills covered in CCSS are geared to students planning to attend 4-year highly selective colleges. Dr. Moats states: “Realistically at least half, if not the majority of students are not going to meet those standards as written…” Furthermore, she believes: “Many of our teachers are not qualified or prepared to teach the standards we have written.”

Sandra Stotsky, a professor of Education at the University of Arkansas, and a member of the consortium that created Common Core, told “Everyone is willing to believe that Common Core standards are rigorous, competitive, internationally bench-marked and research-based. They are not.”

Obviously, the concerns surrounding any national curriculum, including the CCSS, tend to be volatile. Nevertheless it is fully supported by the Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan who claims much of the anxiety over CCSS is based on ‘misinformation.’ 45 states, however, have signed on. To help the adoption process, the federal government offers grants through the Race to the Top program. Colorado, for example, received $18 million when it joined.   

The new SAT, as an assessment tool to measure the efficacy of the CCSS will incorporate a number of changes including making vocabulary more practical (eliminating words such as ‘treacly’ in favor of words like ‘deliberate’.) The essay portion of the Writing section will emphasize argument using examples from supplied source materials. Math will feature understanding concepts and procedures. CCSS, unlike the ACT, currently contains no assessments for science or social studies.  

In the meantime the ACT, which from its creation was a curriculum-based test, is mandatory in eleven states, including Colorado. Delaware is the only state with 100% participation on the SAT. If through creating the assessment for CCSS, the SAT can capture a portion of these states, in a manner like the ACT, the College Board will have transformed itself into a curriculum-based standard and regained its perch high atop the world of standardized college testing.

The question remains: can the SAT outdo the ACT at its own game? Though the real question should be: how best are test-taking students served by two curriculum based standardized tests? The answer will emerge over the next half a decade.