SAT gets first major overhaul since 2005

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WASHINGTON (WANE/AP) – Major changes are coming to the SAT exam, including the essay portion of the test, which will become optional.  Leaders of the testing company, the College Board said the changes will better reflect what students study in high school and the skills they need to success in college or in their careers.

The changes will go in place in the spring of 2016.  That means this year’s freshmen will be the first to take the new exam when they’re juniors.

The exam will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will be on a 1,600-point scale, with a separate score for the optional essay.  The maximum score was changed to 2,400 in 2005.  That same year, students were required to write an essay as part of the test.

The redesigned test will also no longer penalize someone for incorrect answers.  The change “encourages students to give the best answer they have to every problem.”

The College Board, is doing away with some vocabulary words that students wouldn’t often come across — in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

“It’s going to look a lot like the AP tests that kids take in school,” Jacob Alles, who runs G.R.A.M.S. Tutoring Center in Columbia City, said.  “One of the main things the College Board talked about was making the SAT more reflective of what the kids were studying in school because they felt there was a disconnect.”

Dr. Brad Oliver, who serves on the Indiana State Board of Education, said last year’s SAT report indicated that less than 50 percent of the students were getting the scores they needed to survive the tougher college courses.

Alles and his wife also help students prepare for the SAT.  He said he expects students to better relate to the new version.  “We would hand students old practice tests from the 1990s, and they wouldn’t understand what it was asking,” he said.  He added that it will take time to determine if the new test is actually easier or more difficult.

Also new to the SAT, which has been around since 1926, is the option to take the test on a computer.  That option will be made available at selected locations.

Alles said making the essay optional makes sense for some students.  “If I’m applying for the engineering school at Purdue, or the pharmacy school at Butler, they’re not going to put much stock in that essay,” he said.  Instead, students will be asked to read a passage, which could be from a piece of American legislation, like the Declaration of Independence.

Oliver, who is also an associated dean at Indiana Wesleyan University, said the resigned test with more rigorous questions could also lead to issues for schools across the state.

“To simply say we’re going to keep increasing the rigor of the test, and that somehow is going to bring around the rigor of the curriculum, well that’s a noble goal, but at the end of the day, I believe a lot of how are students are affected depends on the quality of instruction they receive in the classroom,” Oliver said.  “I don’t know if we’re encouraging our best and brightest to become teachers.”

According to the Associated Press, the SAT in recent years has been overtaken in popularity by the competing ACT, which has been considered more curriculum based.

One long-standing criticism of the SAT is that students from wealthier households do better because they can afford expensive test prep classes. The College Board is trying to deal with that, by partnering with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test-preparation materials.

Click here to read more about the redesigned test.

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