Not so very long ago on an internet not so far away, I received an email asking me to review an SAT- related book. Normally, I don’t read the SAT books that currently flood the market; I’ve glanced at some of the books about the SAT (which I’m distinguishing from SAT preparation books) and mostly found them uninspiring. Many of them are too narrow, too poorly researched, too general, or too biased. But for some reason the email I got this day intrigued me and I foolishly said yes I’d read the book and post my commentary on it. So here goes.
This is the second part of a series on the new version of the SAT. College Board will roll out more changes over the next 18 months as we await confirmation on the final form of the exam. It’s worth noting that these changes will affect test takers in 2016, but anyone planning to take the exam before that will be under the old system (search our blog for informative posts about that exam. We have some good stuff. Did you miss the first installment? Check it out here)
Today’s post was brought to you by one of our lead teachers, John Mahone.
With the old SAT, the Reading part of the test consisted of Reading Comprehension, passages on various subjects with questions about theme, vocabulary, and other verbal concepts, and Sentence Completion, which required students to fill in the blank or blanks of sentences with the correct vocabulary words or words. On the current SAT, the Writing section of the test consists of one essay written from a specific prompt, and Improving Sentences, which ask students to read sentences and paragraphs, find the error, or identify the ways in which the sentences can be improved. The new exam will shift things around, as there will be a Reading Section, Writing and Language, Math, and an optional essay.
Let’s take a look at what’s new on “The Reading Test.”
This is the first part of a series on the new SAT that will be doled out over the next 18 months as we await more information on the final form of the exam. It’s worth noting that these changes will affect test takers in 2016, but anyone planning to take the exam before that will be under the old system (search our blog for informative posts about that exam. We have some goods stuff.)
Today’s post was brought to you by one of our lead teachers, John Mahone. Without further ado, here’s some of what’s coming and what we’ve concluded.
Following up on last month’s event, during which the College Board, amongst horse-drawn carriages and blaring bugles, expanded on the details for the coming changes to the SAT, which will be rolled out in 2016. On April 16th, College Board quietly dropped 208 pages of unanswered questions and teasers on the internet and the world. The first quarter of the tome lays out The College Board’s reasoning for changing the test (somehow without mentioning the words “market share”) and strategy on how to do so (somehow without saying “we copied the ACT.”) But let’s get to the useful stuff.
After giving this some thought, engaging in discourse with colleagues and peers, I’ve decided that the theme College Board’s major marketing event last month should have been “Missing Opportunity” (click to read my post about that event). That event marked an important moment in which David Coleman and his College Board junta could have revolutionized the SAT by thoughtfully and comprehensively addressing the elements of the SAT that lead to what he called “the culture and practice of test preparation that now surrounds admission exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country.” Instead we got a marketing event, great talking points, and lipstick put on a pig. From all indications the new SAT will be nothing new, nothing different, and imperceptibly less biased against those who don’t have access to SAT prep. There are great articles floating around (I’ll link to a few I like at the bottom of this post) about why the SAT will fail to deliver on its promise of a level playing field, so instead of piling on what’s wrong with the new test I’m going to show you how the College Board (filled with psychometricians and PhDs who are ostensibly far smarter than me and thus begging the question of why did they not address these things themselves) missed out on simple ways of creating an SAT that was less susceptible to test preparation.
Today the College Board, with all due fanfare and a corresponding webcast watched by thousands, announced upcoming changes to the SAT, which will go into effect with the October 2015 PSAT and then the Spring 2016 SAT. During this hour long speech, not only did College Board president, David Coleman, announce changes to the SAT but he set the tone once again for the direction he is planning on taking the global multi-million dollar non-profit organization.
Since you can read in articles and newspapers across the internet the specifics of the announced changes to the SAT (a bunch of links are at the bottom), I thought instead to give you the benefit of my perspective on the impact of the changes by pointing out the winners and losers of the day (as I see it based on the information currently at hand which is admittedly incomplete).
First, let’s look at today’s winners:
I am sure that following David Coleman’s speech at the annual NACAC conference yet another round of articles will penned decrying the burden of the malevolent SAT vocabulary. For years, students have been alone in their lamentation of the SAT’s propensity for underscoring the deficiencies in their respective vocabularies. Now these students have an ally in the new College Board president, who’s taken to joining the cacophony surrounding the SAT and its “arcane” vocabulary. In each of his public comments about the impending changes to the SAT, he’s been taking swipes at the words tested on his own exam. His comments have carried the implication that these tested words are no longer relevant, popular, and by extension not useful to learn. He has given tacit endorsement (whether intentional or not) to the idea that there is such a thing as an “SAT word” (a word that one learns for the SAT and will never use again). This rhetoric from the architect of Common Core State Standards and the de facto baby daddy of the Forthcoming New SAT (let’s call it: FNSAT), may be exciting for students, should be concerning to all of us logophiles.
If you’re preparing for the SSAT, one of the important things to learn early is how to roll with the punches. The SSAT is an inconsistent and fickle beast chock-full of trips, traps, bumps and hiccups. It’s designed for students in multiple grades and thus most of those taking the test will see concepts they have not yet learned, or be required to read at a level that is above (or below) what they’ve been doing in school. This creates lots of variability and can be confusing and daunting. Let’s check out what we mean by variability by exploring the grade levels of the reading passages in the reading section.
In order to analyze the reading level of the passages on the test, we took the passages that were in the “The Official Guide to the Middle Level SSAT” and ran them through the Flesch-Kincaid (F-K) analysis to see the grade level and readability score of each passage. This gives us one objective and consistent way to see how hard the passages were. Our findings are summarized in the chart below:
I’m always stunned by the lack of clarity that people have about what test prep is and what test prep isn’t. Many people seem to believe that test preparation involves sprinkling pixie dust on a test-taker and waiting for the score to soar to new heights. Think about how often you’ve heard of “tricks” to “beat the test.” Now don’t get me wrong, I know it’s largely the test preparation industry that sold the nation this bill of goods (thanks Joe Bloggs), but the impact of this thinking is being compounded by the current atmosphere in education of over-testing, misuse of testing, and over-reliance on test results. This post will clarify “once and for all” what test prep is and what it isn’t. I hope after this post that I’ll never again hear the phrase “just a few tricks” combined with “get me a great score.”
“I just need a few tricks to boost my score.”
Not too long ago the College Board hired David Coleman as the new president and his first few months can be summarized by the Wu Tang Clan – “Kaboom, guess who stepped in the room!” In just a few short months, Coleman has kicked up enough dust to make notoriety seekers like Lady Gaga and Madonna proud by speaking of the failures of the College Board and its programs (notably the SAT and AP).
“I have a problem with the SAT writing” – David Coleman, president of the College Board
As a 20 year veteran of test preparation, I’ve been enamored with the FairTest list of SAT/ACT optional schools for what seems like a decade now. I am sure many of you as parents, educators and students have also been impressed with such a list; it’s seemingly a harbinger of a radical shift in admission policy that will minimize the impact of standardized tests which have historically put low income and minority students at a disadvantage. I’ve seen the good and bad of testing for years and find it commendable that a school would be brave enough to defy convention when it comes to standardized test scores, forgoing both the benefits and the drawbacks, to weigh students on their broader merits.