NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 8, 2014

School officials take new SAT in stride

Sweeping changes to format start in 2016

By Jim Sullivan
Staff writer

---- — Big changes are coming to the SAT exam, and as College Board president and CEO David Coleman announced on Wednesday, the new test to be rolled out in April, 2016 hopes to lift some of the mystery that surrounds the current SAT — which may not necessarily be creating more college-ready students.

Redesigned to keep students from simply checking off ovals with their No. 2 pencils, the new SAT will include three sections; reading and writing, math and an optional essay. The reading and writing sections will include questions requiring students to cite evidence, as well as include reading passages from such subjects as history, science, literature and social studies. Calculators will no longer be allowed to be used on every portion of the math section which will look to focus on data analysis and real world problem-solving.

“I don’t think it will be a huge change,” Amesbury High School guidance counselor Mary Beth Exner said. “The format has obviously changed, but I don’t think kids going right into it are going to notice that. They usually take the PSAT first. And it is not like they have to take it every year. I’m not thinking it will be such a big deal.”

Triton Superintendent Christopher Farmer was informed of the changes Thursday morning and intends to review them further. However one test doesn’t show a student’s entire potential, no matter the format, Farmer said.

“My hope is that it makes the assessment more accessible and more relevant in terms of the content of the test and the daily lives of students,” Farmer said. “I did read that they were looking to create a situation where students would know more about the assessment before they go into it to kind of take out some of the mystery. The important thing is that any test provides only one data point about a student’s capability and what we need are a number of data points to really begin to make competent predictions about what students will be able to do in the future.”

Currently at a score scale of 2,400, the new SAT will drop to its former score scale of 1,600 and test takers will no longer be penalized for marking off incorrect answers.

“There are no wrong answer penalties,” Exner said. “So I think that is a bonus.”

The essay section of the test will have a separate score starting in 2016 and will no longer be mandatory, which is something that Farmer has some concerns about.

“At first blush, I have some reservations about dropping the essay,” Farmer said. “Because it seems to me that independent writing by a student is one of the ways we are able to assess their capacity to synthesize and use knowledge rather than regurgitate it. It does require demonstration of independent thinking. Being able to manipulate information to make an argument which is not always easy through other testing arraignments.”

Although Exner shares Farmer’s concerns about the essay, she was pleased with that the time allotted to finish the written portion has been increased.

“Not all of the colleges were utilizing the writing portion,” Exner said. “Currently, they have 25 minutes to write an essay. The new (SAT) will give them 50 minutes, which is quite different for a student when they are trying to gather all that information.”

Just as the essay is only one portion of the SAT, Exner stressed that the standardized test itself is merely one dimension of a student’s college application.

“The SAT is just one piece that college admissions are looking for,” Exner said. “I would hope they are not laying all their hopes on total SAT scores. And I don’t think that is going to change because the colleges look at the student’s essays and their overall grades for four years versus three hours and fifty minutes of testing.”

THE NEW SAT AT A GLANCE

— No more extra penalties for wrong answers.

— Essay portion will be optional.

— Top score will be 1,600 with a separate score for the essay, compared with today's possible total of 2,400.

— It can be taken in either paper or digital form.

— It will include a passage drawn from "founding documents" such as the Declaration of Independence or from discussions they inspire.

— Calculators will be permitted only on certain portions of the math section, not on the entire section.

— Students will be asked to analyze both text and data in real world contexts instead of answering questions that don't require that.

— Vocabulary words more widely used in classroom and work settings will replace more obscure vocabulary words.

— Essays will measure a student's ability to analyze evidence and explain how an author builds an argument, not just the ability to construct an argument.

— The math section will draw from fewer topics instead of a wide range.

Source: College Board