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Changes to SAT lauded
Local officials: Revisions will be beneficial to students

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Upcoming changes to the SAT standardized test likely will prove beneficial, according to two local college coordinators.

The College Board — the private nonprofit that publishes the SAT — recently announced plans to extensively revise the college admissions exam. Changes include returning to a maximum score of 1,600 (down from the current 2,400), removing penalties for incorrect answers, removing some of the more difficult vocabulary words and changing the essay portion of the test from mandatory to optional.

The revised version of the test is scheduled to be implemented in 2016, according to The Associated Press.

Sammy Redd, coordinator of college access for New College Institute (NCI), and Travis Tisdale, coordinator of admissions and records at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), said they expect the changes to the SAT to be changes for the better.

Neither PHCC nor NCI requires the SAT for admission.

The revised SAT, Redd said, is based on knowledge and skills learned in high school coursework, while the current SAT is based on aptitude, testing “broader skills and reasoning abilities that may or may not have been gained in the classroom.”

The revised test will be fairer for students, Redd said.

“We tell students to take advanced coursework,” Redd said, “then give them a test that doesn’t necessarily assess what they learned in their classes.”

The switch from a mandatory to an optional essay is a positive change as well, Redd said, as he has been told that many colleges do not factor the essay into their student admission evaluations. The essay portion was added in 2005, when the maximum score went from 1,600 to 2,400.

In fact, Redd said, he has been told that for the majority of colleges, the SAT “is not the primary or determining factor in college admissions.” The SAT ranks roughly third behind preparatory college courses and overall high school GPA, he said.

Tisdale said he also has heard that the majority of colleges ignore the essay portion of the SAT, focusing instead on the reading and math sections of the test.

Many high school students “are intimidated by the (essay) section. Now that it’s optional, I think they’ll be less intimidated by the tests,” Tisdale said.

In the same vein, he said, he expects that if incorrect answers no longer are penalized, students will be less afraid to make educated guesses on questions they aren’t certain about.

Tisdale also was in favor of the removal of some of the more difficult and obscure vocabulary words from the SAT. The reason, he said, is that he has always felt that obscure vocabulary words place students who cannot afford to take SAT preparatory courses at a disadvantage over students who can afford to take the prep classes.

Redd pointed out that the SAT is not the only game in town; high school students also have the option of taking the ACT, which Redd said is based on knowledge gained through coursework, not general aptitude.

Most colleges require either the SAT or ACT for admission, Redd said, and although the ACT has never been as popular as the SAT in Virginia, last year, it eclipsed the SAT in nationwide popularity.

Both Redd and Tisdale agreed that it’s likely no coincidence that the SAT was overhauled shortly after it fell second in popularity to the ACT.

As the SAT currently stands, both Redd and Tisdale said they would recommend high school students take the ACT over the SAT.

One remaining question, Tisdale said, is how colleges will factor in the difference between students who take the current version of the SAT and students who take the revised version starting in 2016.

“I have no clue how they’re going to figure that out,” Tisdale said. “I think there will probably be even more of a shift to the ACT in the next two years.”


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