The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

New SAT practical, won’t penalize guessing


That millstone around high school students’ necks — the college-admission behemoth known as the SAT — is changing. College Board officials announced last week that the test so many high school juniors fear will be fundamentally different starting in 2016.

With changes ranging from the selection of vocabulary words to optional essays to the elimination of penalties for guessing, the overhauled SAT is designed to be more connected to curriculum.

While some fear the new test will be too easy, we think many of the changes are practical — especially with the news that the College Board will partner with the online Khan Academy to offer free practice problems. This could help balance the advantages of children from well-off families (many spend thousands of dollars on tutors, for example). After all, the test preparation industry rakes in some $4.5 billion a year. No wonder children from affluent families score better on the test.

Changes also mean low-income students will be allowed to apply to four colleges at no charge. This waiving of fees should open opportunities for students whose choices had been limited because they could not afford application fees.

We will miss the somewhat obscure vocabulary words, the kind to be memorized and never used again, but such emphasis on the arcane isn’t necessarily a sign of greater intelligence. The new vocabulary will consist of words that students are likely to use in college, and that shift to the practical is not a bad thing.

Math will be more narrowly focused, on such items as linear equations and functions, with the use of a calculator banned on many math sections.

The test score is changing, too, returning to the old 1,600 scale. It had been 2,400 since 2004. The essay will be optional; considering that graders can spend a scant few minutes with a test that could change a person’s life, we don’t think that’s a downgrade, either.

One of the biggest changes will come in grading. The SAT no longer will penalize students for guessing, but will merely add up all of a test taker’s correct answers. That will encourage students to guess and could help colleges find students who are more intuitive and able to answer questions through context and elimination.

Of course, whatever the changes in standardized tests, the reality is that nothing predicts college success as much as a high school student’s grade-point average. Realizing that, many colleges are dumping the SAT and ACT altogether. No wonder the test giants are attempting to become more relevant. They do not want to go the way of the dinosaur. Adding relevance is one way to stay alive.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican


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