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Goodbye SAT; hello SAT

You may have heard that the Scholastic Aptitude Test is being redesigned, with a new version being introduced in 2016.  The testing company that creates the SAT has said that they will strive to make the test more relevant and more reflective of the content that high school students cover in their classwork. Therefore, there will be a reduced need to learn obscure words that are rarely ever used in speech or even in writing, like the word "tyro."  I doubt whether anyone uses that word other than in learning it for the SAT. 
 
One might ask, why after all these years, has the SAT administrators and developers decided to change the test?  Didn't they know that they were asking the "wrong" questions 20 years ago?  Didn't they consider how they were causing undue stress and anxiety among students taking the test over the years (and we are talking about a huge number of students)! How many?  About 3,000,000 each year.  Now I'm conjecturing that the SAT people have known that much of what they ask on the test is not relevant to everyday life or academics for a long time.  Let's say that they've known for 20 years.  Well, 20 x 3,000,000 equals 60,000,000.  Wow!  That's a lot of suffering!! Not only that, you have to PAY to take the SAT, which means you have the privilege of paying to suffer, and the College Board, (the non-profit company that administers the test) gets paid to make the test taker suffer.  So, a logical question is "Why has the College Board taken so long to change the test?" 
 
What do you think?
 
 

Comments

Alan,
 
Personally I don't have any non-cynical answers to your question.  I have been troubled by many things about our educational system for a long time, ever since I studied the science of learning in graduate school.  The mismatch you point out, between the SAT and what is going on in schools, is one of many mismatches that are out there. 
 
My cynical possible answers:
 
- The SAT is a test of scholastic aptitude.  In order to be good in school, sometimes, you need to be able to learn stuff for a test that you haven't learned before, or you need to remember irrelevant stuff that you're never going to learn again.  You need to be able to prepare for a test that might be a bit out of your comfort zone.  So, if that's true, then the SAT would have to test random stuff that you might never have learned before, and see if you can either figure it out on the fly, or make sure you studied especially for the SAT.  That's a scholastic skill.
 
- The folks who write the SAT are in business, not-for-profit or otherwise.  They still benefit from more dollars coming in the door than they have to commit to expenses.  As long as colleges continue to use the SAT as an entrance requirement, or as a measure of a student's ability to succeed in college, then the makers of the SAT don't have to invest a damn dime to change the test.  They make more money by sticking to the same-old same-old, rather than spending more to make the test more current.  They'd have to write new items, do new statistical analyses to validate the tests...that's a lot of work!
 
- The folks who write the SAT respond to requests/needs from the academic community.  The academic community is HUGE, with many many different powers-that-be with many many different private interests.  Even if the academic community were putting pressure on the SAT to change, it takes a long time to steer a ship that big.  Maybe even 20 years. That's how slowly the academic community moves sometimes.  That's assuming, of course, that the academic community even was pushing for that kind of change, or recognized that it needed to change. 
 
Case in point:  Our education system has been based on "lectures" for hundreds of years.  Back when you had lots of people who couldn't read, who didn't have access to books, then it made sense to read stuff to them so they could write it down.  That's what a lecture is.  Once we invented the printing press, then we could give students the books instead of reading the books to them.  You would have thought that we could stop reading the book to the student, and maybe have them do something a bit more interesting with their time in a classroom.  Ummmm...has that happened universally in the last few hundred years?
 
I admit that those answers are cynical, but those are the least cynical ones I could think of.  The other ones are even worse...as in, they're more accusatory and more critical of the standardized test business and of our education system in general.
 
And I'm a tutor with a number of ACT Math students right now!  The least I can do is help them play the game so they can get into college and get on with their lives.
 
-- Michael
Hi Michael,
 
I agree with you.  I too work with students so they can successfully "play the game" since there really isn't any option right now (and perhaps for the future as well).  I think as educators and tutors, one service we can provide is to emphasize that results on these tests do not necessarily mean that one is 'dumb' or 'inferior.'  I think the worst thing that these tests can do is to make a student feel stigmatized, which can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e., I don't get good scores on these standardized tests; therefore, I'm not good academically.  Of course, there are many students that simply are not interested in academics or in participating in academic programs (for a variety of reasons), so these students probably don't have an emotional response to receiving low scores.  But I'm more concerned about the students that don't understand the "game" component. I would hate to have them go through life thinking they're "deficient."
 
The only way I think there could be an intelligent debate and possibly reform of the testing process is if the press had competent journalists that covered "education."  That seems the only way to bring these issues to the forefront.  Meanwhile, we can all do our little part.
 
Alan