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Does David Effing Coleman Operate from 'Heartfelt' Motives?

by Susan Ohanian

Read the two versions of the story about changes in the SAT. The New York Times version reads totally like a summary of the press release from the College Board but neither version offers even one sentence of real critque. Neither version offers a callout to the FairTest list of institutions of higher learning not requiring the SAT.

You can read the College Board press release here

Surely the hilarious quote of the week is the Times finding someone who would declare David Effing Coleman's actions "heartfelt." In truth, we now see how Coleman manipulated everybody--got the Common Core State (sic) Standards as a setup for his next job. I'd call it matter of the purse, not the heart. Realpolitik, not pedagogy, philosophy, or any sort of high-mindedness.

Take a look at the New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert's comments The Big Score about taking the SAT.

And then there's Debbie Stier, who at the age of forty-six, decided to devote herself full time to the test, with the goal of achieving the maximum possible score of 2400. The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT is the result. More later. She took the SAT seven times and describes other parents who also study for the exam along with their kids, a phenomenon for which the kindest word I can find is "bizarre." Stier's crazy quest is lightened by her sense of humor. I suspect that early on in this SAT odyssey she saw the possibilities of a book. She does, after all, work in the publishing industry.

Reader Comment: All this tinkering is just a ruse to cover the fact the ACT now has more market share.

Reader Comment: The SAT is a waste of time. Filled with more trickery and hidden strategy than assessment, its value is quite dubious at best. Apparently many schools also agree as more than 700 no longer require an SAT score including Wake Forest, American University, Bowdoin College, and more.

College Board Shakes Up SAT Entrance Test to Return to 1600-Point Scale; Essay Becomes Optional

By Douglas Belkin,Caroline Porter and
Stephanie Banchero

Wall Street Journal

AUSTIN, Texas--The organization that runs the SAT said Wednesday it is shaking up the college-entrance exam and offering free online help, throwing a curve to the $1 billion test-preparation industry that has grown up around it.

Out are obscure vocabulary words, mandatory essays, a deduction for incorrect answers and the 2400-point grading scale launched in 2005. In are questions that demand more analysis and familiarity with a narrower range of subjects as well as a return to the longtime 1600-point scale.

Also in the works are a plan to provide free online tutorials to all students and another to arrange for free college applications for economically disadvantaged students.

The nonprofit College Board, which runs the SAT, said the changes would help the test better gauge students' readiness for college and help bridge economic and demographic barriers. The new plan also could encourage more students to take the SAT at a time when it has fallen behind the rival ACT in the number of test-takers.

College Board President David Coleman said the SAT, which nearly 1.7 million students took last year, had become out of touch with what students are learning and was perceived to be a better assessment of "privilege rather than merit." Mr. Coleman, an architect of the Common Core math-and-reading standards rolling out to K-12 schools across the nation with backing from the Obama administration, hopes to close that gap by aligning the new SAT with the skills he believes are more predictive of college success.

The new reading section will ask students to support their answers from evidence in a passage provided. Vocabulary words like prevaricator, sagacious and ignominious will disappear in favor of words like synthesis and empirical whose meanings shift in different contexts.

The math section will draw from fewer topics, but mastery of those on the test is more likely to be predictive of student readiness and career training, Mr. Coleman said. Calculators will be allowed in only some of the math sections, rather than throughout.
A Look Back

1901:A group of U.S. colleges administers the first standardized admissions test, after banding together to form the College Entrance Examination Board.

1926: Students take the first multiple-choice SAT.

1939: The SAT introduces new machine-scored answer sheets.

1941: The SAT is normalized to make test scores more fair.

1958: Students see their SAT scores for the first time.

1969: The SAT begins offering fee waivers for low-income students.

1977: The number of times the test is given each year expands to six.

1984: The College Board published two books in 1984 to help familiarize students with the SAT and the Achievement Tests, now known as SAT Subject Tests.

1994: Calculators allowed on the math section, and antonym questions were removed as a greater focus was placed on reading passages.

2005: The 1600-point score is changed to 2400, including a new writing test. Other changes were meant to reflect what students are learning in school.

2014: The old 1600-point score is returned, with the writing test becoming optional. Questions are realigned to the Common Core curriculum and test prep goes online free.
Source: College Board

The current essay section, which was added in 2005 and brought the potential perfect score to 2400, has been criticized because the compositions aren't graded on factual accuracy. The new essays, which students could write if their school districts or target colleges require them, will require evidence to be analyzed and an explanation of how the author built an argument.

For decades, the SAT was the nation's pre-eminent college-entrance examination. But its market share is waning. In 2012, for the first time, more high-school students took the rival ACT, which is tied closely to what is taught in high schools and has been gaining popularity as a way to measure achievement. Last year, that margin expanded to 200,000, according to Fair Test, a testing-watchdog organization.

The ACT has contracts to test all the 11th graders in 13 states, some beyond its traditional base in the Midwest, according to Paul Weeks, vice president of consumer engagement for nonprofit ACT Inc. Several more states are joining shortly, Mr. Weeks said.

The College Board's David Coleman. Drew Anthony Smith for The Wall Street Journal

"We're delighted the SAT folks have finally recognized the test should reflect what's going on in schools," Mr. Weeks said. "That's what we've been doing for a long time."

That growth has put the SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, on the defensive, and not for the first time. The changes to the test--which go into place in the spring of 2016--follow the changes in 2005 after the University of California System threatened to stop considering it because of unhappiness with the analogy section of the test.

The College Board said the changes to the test--including taking away the 1/4 -point penalty for wrong answers--weren't expected to change an individual student's score for better or worse, but it acknowledged that the changes aim to make the test fairer overall.

Reactions were mixed. At Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Vice President of Enrollment Alyssa McCloud said she was pleased. "I think it will allow for greater access and opportunity for students," she said.

Neal McCluskey, an education analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute, was less impressed. "There is a lot of talk about problem solving, rigor and challenging kids, but that's not necessarily representing really high achievement," he said, adding that he won't know fully until more specifics are released. "It sounds like the same basic problem as Common Core appears to have. It's lots of rhetoric with lofty goals, but at least right now there is no clear evidence that it actually hits those goals or pushes kids to meet them."

In another big change, the College Board said it would coordinate with colleges to help students with few resources better understand their options to reach college. To that end, low-income students will be able to apply to as many as four participating colleges for free.

Mr. Coleman cited the lack of access to advanced-placement courses, which are also run by the College Board, among Latinos and African-Americans. "These patterns of access, if allowed to continue, will build an iron wall of inequality into the next generation," Mr. Coleman said.

Steven Syverson, a board member with the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, expressed some skepticism at the College Board's motives for arranging free college applications.

"The other thing it will do is encourage students to take the SAT instead of the ACT," he said. "I wonder if they're looking out there and wondering, 'What is the best way to get our market share back?'"

A College Board spokeswoman said its changes are about boosting college readiness "by offering a solution that goes well beyond simply administering another test."

The free online tutorials, through a partnership with nonprofit education website Khan Academy, are designed to flatten the advantage of wealthier students, who are more likely to have access to private test tutors. Students will have access to SAT-specific tutorials at no cost.

"Our intention is that this will be the best thing out there that happens to be free," said founder Salman Khan.

Test-preparation companies said any uncertainty generated by the new format would be a boon to their business. Changes to the SAT in 1994 and 2005 generated the two biggest years in terms of growth for Kaplan Test Prep Co., said Vice President Seppy Basili.

"Any time there is a high-stakes event, people want coaching, people are going to want an edge," said Mr. Basili.

The College Board also said it would work with teachers to align the test with the high-school curriculum to reflect "real demands of first-year college courses and career training programs."

"They are recognizing that the test has taken on a kind of cultural significance that gives the College Board an added responsibility to make sure it is used not only to evaluate students but to help them prepare for college," said Marjorie Hass, president of Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Ms. Hass was involved in conversations with the College Board as it redesigned the test.

Sonia Frank, a 17-year-old high-school junior in Chicago, has been doing test preparation for seven months and will take the ACT in April instead of the SAT because, she said, the former asks questions in a more direct language. But she said she was "a little bummed" that she can't take the redesigned SAT, particularly given the removal of the penalty for wrong answers.

"If the new version of the SAT was available now, I would definitely be taking this over the ACT," she said. "It's just like everything I've been learning in school, where we are analyzing documents and seeing how we came to that answer. The idea of condensed math makes it much easier to narrow down what you want to study."

A New SAT Aims to Realign With Schoolwork

by Tamar Lewin

New York Times

Saying its college admission exams do not focus enough on the important academic skills, the College Board announced on Wednesday a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong, cutting obscure vocabulary words and making the essay optional.

The president of the College Board, David Coleman, criticized his own test, the SAT, and its main rival, the ACT, saying that both had "become disconnected from the work of our high schools."

In addition, Mr. Coleman announced programs to help low-income students, who will now be given fee waivers allowing them to apply to four colleges at no charge. And even before the new exam is introduced, in the spring of 2016, the College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer free online practice problems and instructional videos showing how to solve them.

The changes are extensive: The SAT's rarefied vocabulary challenges will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, like "empirical" and "synthesis." The math questions, now scattered across many topics, will focus more narrowly on linear equations, functions and proportional thinking. The use of a calculator will no longer be allowed on some of the math sections.

The new exam will be available on paper and computer, and the scoring will revert to the old 1,600-point scale -- from 2,400 -- with top scores of 800 on math and 800 on what will now be called "evidence-based reading and writing." The optional essay, which strong writers may choose to do, will have a separate score.

Once the pre-eminent college admissions exam, the SAT has lost ground to the ACT, which is based more directly on high school curriculums and is now taken by a slightly higher number of students. Last year, 1.8 million students took the ACT and 1.7 million the SAT.

The new SAT will not quell all criticism of standardized tests. Critics have long pointed out --and Mr. Coleman admits -- that high school grades are a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores. More colleges have in recent years become "test optional," allowing students to forgo the exams and submit their grades, transcripts and perhaps a graded paper.

For many students, Mr. Coleman said, the tests are mysterious and "filled with unproductive anxiety." And, he acknowledged, they inspire little respect from classroom teachers: only 20 percent, he said, see the college-admission tests as a fair measure of the work their students have done.

Mr. Coleman came to the College Board in 2012, from a job as an architect of the Common Core curriculum standards, which set out the content that students must master at each level and are now making their way into school.

He announced plans to revise the SAT a year ago and almost from the start expressed dissatisfaction with the essay that was added in 2005. He said he also wanted to make the test reflect more closely what students did in high school and, perhaps most important, rein in the intense coaching and tutoring on how to take the test that often gave affluent students an advantage.

"It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country," Mr. Coleman said Wednesday. "It may not be our fault, but it is our problem."

While test-preparation companies said the SAT was moving in the right direction, with more openness and more free online test preparation, the changes were unlikely to diminish the demand for their services. "People will always want an edge," said Seppy Basili, a vice president of Kaplan Test Prep. "And test changes always spur demand."

The suggested changes were well received among many educators, but Mr. Coleman's comments about the ACT drew harsh words from an executive of that company.

"David Coleman is not a spokesman for the ACT, and I acknowledge his political gamesmanship but I don't appreciate it," said Jon Erickson, president of ACT's education division. :It seems like they're mostly following what we've always done."

Philip Ballinger, the director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Washington, said he admired Mr. Coleman's heartfelt "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach to improving the SAT and appreciated the effort to tame the test-prep industry.

"It's absurd, and that's the nicest thing I can call it, how much test prep has grown and how guilt-ridden parents have become about trying to prepare their kids for the test," Mr. Ballinger said. "If this helps test prep become learning, not gaming, well, shoot, that's great."

Some changes will make the new SAT more like the ACT, which for the last two years has outpaced the SAT in test takers. Thirteen states administer the ACT to all public high school juniors, and three more are planning to do so. The ACT has no guessing penalty, and its essay is optional. It also includes a science section, and while the SAT is not adding one, the redesigned reading test will include a science passage.

But beyond the particulars, Mr. Coleman emphasized that the three-hour exam -- three hours and 50 minutes with the essay -- had been redesigned with an eye toward reinforcing the skills and evidence-based thinking that students should be learning in high school, and moving away from a need for test-taking tricks and strategies. Sometimes, students will be asked not just to select the right answer but to justify it by choosing the quotation from a text that provides the best supporting evidence for their answer.

The revised essay, in particular, will shift in that direction. Students now write about their experiences and opinions, with no penalty for incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones. In the future, though, students will receive a source document and be asked to analyze it for its use of evidence, reasoning and persuasive or stylistic technique.

The text will be different on each exam, but the essay task will remain constant. The required essay never entirely caught on with college admissions officers. Many never figured the score into the admission decision and looked at the actual essays only rarely, as a raw writing sample to help detect how much parents, consultants and counselors had edited and polished the essay submitted with the application.

The Key Changes

These will be among the changes in the new SAT, starting in the spring of 2016:

  • Instead of arcane "SAT words" ("depreciatory," "membranous"), the vocabulary definitions on the new exam will be those of words commonly used in college courses, such as "synthesis" and "empirical."

  • The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze the ways its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

  • The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

  • The overall scoring will return to the old 1,600-point scale, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

  • Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

  •   Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

  • Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation's "founding documents," such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail."

  • — Susan Ohanian and multiple writers
    Wall Streeet Journal & New York Times




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