SAT’s Goal Has Evolved Over Decades

The New York Times (3/7, Pérez-peña, Subscription Publication) reports on the announcement this week that the College Board is planning a major overhaul of the SAT, noting that the stated intention was to “curb the advantages enjoyed by affluent students,” which “sounded a bit like the people who first designed and popularized the test decades ago.” The piece notes, however, that although the test has been promoted as a measure of “academic merit...notions of what defines merit have changed profoundly.” The article describes the tests origins in the 1920s, noting that College Board President David Coleman “says he wants to democratize higher education” and to improve access.

        SAT Overhaul Announced After Years Of Lost Market Share To ACT. The Washington Post (3/7, Anderson) reports that many high schools encourage their students to take the ACT instead of the SAT, noting that many students are averse to “the SAT’s scoring format” in which students are penalized for wrong answers on multiple choice questions. The Post reports that Coleman says that the overhaul is intended to be part of “a broader campaign to improve college access for disadvantaged students,” but notes that “for this agenda to gain traction, the SAT must capture the attention of students who appear to be gravitating toward” the ACT.

        Motivations Behind SAT Changes Explored. In an article for the New York Times (3/7, Balf, Subscription Publication) magazine, author Todd Balf writes about the events that led to the decision to drop the essay question from the SAT. He describes how College Board President David Coleman reached out to MIT director of writing Les Perelman, who had conducted research into what he perceived as deficiencies in how that portion of the test is administered.

        Meanwhile, Claire Zillman writes for Fortune (3/6) that the changes are a “calculated business move” designed to regain market share from the ACT, which “has always been a legitimate competitor to the SAT,” but originally “lacked the SAT’s prestigious reputation.” Zillman describes the rise of the ACT over the decades, noting that it “surpassed the SAT in popularity in 2012.” She quotes FairTest director Bob Schaeffer saying, “If you want to see the new SAT, take a look at the ACT – there’s no guessing penalty or esoteric words and the essay is optional. The SAT has fallen from first place. It’s been overtaken by the ACT that has more market appeal, is more consumer friendly, and has sharper salesmanship.”

        Khan Academy Lands Exclusive Deal ToProvide SAT Prep Software. TechCrunch (3/5) reports that Khan Academy “closed a rare exclusive partnership with the College Board” to provide SAT test prep software, noting that the online learning platform will have “access to actual test questions in the hopes of creating a sophisticated learning program aimed at test prep otherwise reserved to wealthier students.” The piece quotes Khan Academy founder Sal Khan saying, “So big picture success is that access to college (and success in life) becomes much less dependent on income and much more dependent on merit. We think we can make the playing field more level by making the best-in-class tool and making it free. We hope that beyond individual students, these tools become adopted by after-school and college readiness programs.”