New SAT Makes Its Debut This Weekend

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In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a sign is seen at the entrance to a hall for a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School. The current version of the SAT college entrance exam is having its final run, when thousands of students nationwide will sit, squirm or stress through the nearly four-hour reading, writing and math test. A new revamped version debuts in March. (Alex Brandon/AP)
In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a sign is seen at the entrance to a hall for a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School. (Alex Brandon/AP)

If you're a high school junior, or have one at home, you're probably well aware that the new SAT (which originally stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test) is making its debut this weekend. The planned changes to the test, including some that are pretty major, were announced back in 2014. Now, they're here. Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at the College Board, about what's different about this test, and why.

Interview Highlights: Cyndie Schmeiser

What is the biggest change students will notice when they take the new SAT?

“Well, I think what they are going to see is that we have redesigned the SAT to focus on the few things that research and evidence tells us matters most for college and career readiness. I think when kids sit down to take the test, they are gonna say ‘hey, this is what I’ve been learning in class.’ The questions on the redesigned SAT are going to be much more familiar to kids, and reflect just exactly what they’re learning in class.”

What do you mean by that? Is it more tied to the Common Core?

“We used the evidence to identify what’s really important for college readiness and ultimately success in college, so we’re really focusing on, for instance, the math that matters most. That would be data analysis, algebra and some higher-level concepts that are kind of fundamental to higher-level math courses that kids might take. In the reading section, we’re focused on not only what kids understand in a passage, but the evidence that lead them to pick a particular answer. We’re also – we’ve gotten rid of those dratted SAT words, so instead of asking kids to come up with a definition of a question, instead they’re going to be asked ‘what’s the meaning of that word as it’s used in context?’ You know, all these skills are skills that you and I use every day in our careers. Certainly kids will be asked to use these in college, and they are the skills that they are learning today in class.”

Why is the writing portion now optional?

“We spent over two years on listening tours, listening K-12 needs and higher ed. And what we heard from higher ed is that higher ed colleges wanted to use the essay in their admissions and placement decisions, and others did not. So, we felt the best option to meet their needs was in fact to make it optional, and in to allow higher ed. institutions to make decisions whether to require it or not.”

Why did the College Board decide to ban tutors from taking the SATs, at least for now?

“Well, you know, it has been something that we have not really regulated before and I think we’ve got to think through. We’re always enhancing our test security measures to ensure the integrity of the test, and when we close registration for this March test, we showed an unusually high number of individuals meeting criteria that are really associated with a higher risk. So we took steps to protect the security of the exam and to allow the best testing experience for the kids who are taking it for the purposes that it’s intended, that’s applying to college and scholarships. And we ask the registrants that we thought were a higher security risk to take a test in May that will be released, and so we’re not banning them from the test, We’re just asking them to take it on a test date where we will be releasing the exams.”

What do you mean by a ‘higher security risk?’

“Again, unfortunately there are folks who take the test who might use the information to disseminate it for some kids to get, frankly, an unfair advantage over the others.”

What do you say to people who don’t like idea of using standardize testing to get into college?

“Well, I think that’s one of the reasons with the redesigned SAT that we’re trying to flood the market, if you will, with good explanations and help familiarize all kids with the test, the format, what to expect when they walk into the test room.”

Are standardized tests the best way to measure somebody for college?

“Well I do, and the reason is because it does provide a comparable and common way for all kids to show what they’ve learned in school and otherwise, subjective opinion, not exactly fair, and other factors that actually are not comparable come into play and, again, I fear that we’ll go back to rewarding those who frankly can afford high-priced test preparation or high priced college counseling, and to the disadvantage of those who cannot.”


This segment aired on March 3, 2016.



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