College Board Announces Major Changes To SAT


The College Board’s announcement Wednesday that it is rolling out the first major overhaul of the SAT college entry exam in nearly a decade generated heavy coverage in major national media outlets, including nearly seven-and-a-half minutes on all three major network news broadcasts, with the changes leading the broadcast on ABC World News. Coverage is generally factual and based on the substance of the changes and, to a lesser degree, on reactions from within the education community. NBC Nightly News (3/5, story 2, 2:40, Williams) places the story within the context of “the anxiety and the cost of college entrance exams,” and reports that College Board President David Coleman says that the test will better align with what students actually need to know to succeed in college and the workplace. NBC reports that the test “is going high-tech,” and there will “be more focus on analyzing texts and asking students to refer to real world examples and documents.”

        The CBS Evening News (3/5, story 3, 2:05, Pelley) also covers the “big rewrite” to the test, noting that the “sweeping changes reflect feedback from educators that the SAT was not testing for the skills that would best identify top students.” The piece shows Coleman saying, “We’ve also been listening to students and their families for whom these tests are often mysterious and foster unproductive anxiety.”

        ABC World News (3/5, lead story, 2:40, Sawyer) broadcast that the changes are intended to make the test “more modern, relevant and fair.” The changes, ABC said, will “fight back” against the high cost of SAT prep courses, “making tutoring videos available for free.” Coleman is shown saying, “We need to dismantle the advantages in using costly test preparation to find out the secrets of the SAT. If there are no more secrets, it’s very hard to pay for them.” Moreover, the changes will “make the SAT more like its biggest rival the ACT, which has been rapidly gaining ground.” ABC reported that the changes will be implemented over two years “to give teachers and students time to prepare.”

        PBS NewsHour (3/6, 7:13 p.m. EST) points out that the test “will revert to a top score of 1,600, instead of 2,400, as is the case now.” Moreover, Coleman “said he was concerned the SAT, and the testing mania surrounding it, was putting an even bigger burden on disadvantaged students.” More of this broadcast can be seen here, and a transcript can be seen here.

        The New York Times (3/6, Lewin, Subscription Publication) also covers the “extensive” changes, reporting that students will no longer sustain the “longstanding penalty for guessing wrong,” while many “obscure vocabulary words” will be eliminated and the essay portion will be optional. The Times adds that Coleman said that low-income students will receive “fee waivers allowing them to apply to four colleges at no charge,” and that the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy to “offer free online practice problems and instructional videos showing how to solve them.” The Times suggests that the changes “will not quell all criticism of standardized tests,” noting that an increasing number of colleges have made entrance tests optional. The Times notes parenthetically that before leading the College Board, Coleman was “an architect of the Common Core curriculum standards.”

        Noting that “today’s ninth graders” will be the first cohort of students to be affected by the changes, the Washington Post (3/5, Anderson) reports that “skeptics questioned whether” the changes will raise the SAT’s utility “in a campaign for college access, in part because the test’s scores historically have correlated with family income.” The Post notes that the changes are intended to “to strip many of the tricks out of” the test and adds that the College Board will “offer new test-preparation tutorials for free online, enabling students to bypass pricey SAT-prep classes.” In announcing the changes, the Post reports, Coleman “fired a broadside at a test-prep industry that sells books, flashcards and courses to help students raise their scores.” Also noting Coleman’s history with the Common Core Standards, the Post reports that the revised SAT “appears to echo the philosophy underlying the Common Core and could help the test track more closely with what students are learning in the nation’s classrooms.”

        The Los Angeles Times (3/6, Gordon) reports that though the SAT has been losing ground to the ACT test, it “remains a major factor in college admission decisions nationally.” The Times reports that the revised test apparently “will be more populist and more in line with the new federal Common Core teaching standards.” Meanwhile, the Times reports that critics of the changes complained that the test “was being dumbed down,” though there were also “statements of strong support.”

        In its coverage, Bloomberg News (3/5) reports that FairTest spokesman Bob Schaeffer said that the changes “don’t address the fundamental flaws with the exam: its weakness in predicting college performance compared with high school grades.” Bloomberg quotes Schaeffer saying, “The College Board recognizes that its 2005 version of new Coke was a failure in the marketplace and reformulated it to match its primary competitor, ACT. None of these changes go to the central issues with the test, which is: Who needs it?”

        Other media outlets covering this story include USA Today (3/5, Zoroya), the Wall Street Journal (3/6, Belkin, Porter, Banchero, Subscription Publication), the Boston Globe (3/6, Bombardieri), Reuters (3/5, Herskovitz), the Chicago Tribune (3/5, Gordon), the Baltimore Sun (3/5, Bowie), the AP (3/5, Hefling), NPR (3/6, Calamur) in its “The Two-Way” blog, US News & World Report (3/5), Newsday (3/6), CNN (3/5, Gumbrecht), and Politico (3/6, Simon), .

        Strauss: Changes Won’t Make SAT Better Predictor Of College Success. Valerie Strauss writes about the changes at the Washington Post (3/5) “Answer Sheet” blog, writing that the changes “aren’t likely to make it any more of an accurate predictor of how well students will do in college than it was before. And before, it wasn’t any good at it at all.” Strauss expands her point into an argument against the usefulness of high-stakes testing in general.