Taking the “Scholastic” out of Scholastic Assessment Test

The College Board is redesigning the SAT: the essay section will be removed, the vocabulary words will be easier, and the math will not feature geometry.  (Hat tip.)   Apparently, some of the redesign is due to Common Core; however, some of it is a welcome, and needed, change.

The essay never tested any semblance of actual writing ability: it is a 25-minute essay on a vague topic, meant to measure whether students can put together a five paragraph essay worthy of fifth-graders.  Students who are preparing to go to college ought to be able to construct a much longer, detailed, and more analytical piece, but they are tested on their ability to scrawl a five-paragraph essay.

At least the math and verbal sections resemble skills that one expects of high school students: geometry, algebra, number theory, vocabulary that is found in classic literature, and rudimentary logic.  Unfortunately, the SAT is doing away with the harder vocabulary and mathematics.

The SAT has always been graded on a bell curve, with most students clustered around the 500 mark and the exceptional scorers receiving 700+ scores. Removing hard material will not improve the test: it will still be graded on a  bell curve and top schools will still want to see scores that correlate with the top percentiles.  Removing hard math and vocabulary may make students happier as they take the test, but it will only cause schools to look for other measures of ability. Engineering schools want students who can excel in all areas of math; that a lot of mediocre math students felt more competent while taking an easier test will not change this reality.




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