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Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Big Changes Coming to SAT

It's been all over the media - significant changes to SAT beginning in spring, 2016 (sorry classes of 2015 and 2016). In fact, this change is a year later than originally planned. A new PSAT will roll out in the fall of 2015 in preparation for the new SAT.

What's changing? The essay will be optional. There will be no penalty for guessing wrong. Vocabulary words will be more relevant. Paper or digital method. Analysis of text and data consistent with real-world application. Partnership with Khan Academy to offer free test-taking support. On test day, students are provided more info on how the test will work.

Why the change? Stiff competition from the ACT; more colleges and universities making both the SAT/ACT optional for applications; and complaints by students, teachers, and guidance counselors.

With any big change, some groups win and others lose. Here's my take:

*  Students (Winners): More realistic test, shorter test if writing isn't chosen, some free test-prep support (less chance for students who can't afford the prep to suffer poorer scores), option to test digitally.
*  Colleges (Winners and Losers): More equitable comparisons between socio-economically diverse test-takers, more realistic assessment of students' real-life knowledge, may not get a graded writing sample (but they still get application essays).
*  ACT (Too soon to tell): Some states require this test for graduation so students won't necessarily take both. Will states consider making either test count toward a grad requirement? Will more students decide the SAT is now so relevant they want to take it in addition to the ACT?
*  Test-Prep Services (Likely Losers): Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
* College Board (the SAT folks)/(Too soon to tell): Will this change turn the tide on the SAT/ACT college requirement exodus? Will they get some market share back from ACT? Will testers buy more SAT prep books from the CB?

Lest we kid ourselves, this change is all about the money. Although the College Board is a not for profit organization, they reap millions in a wide variety of fees from college-bound families for all kinds of services. Their market share has clearly dropped and there was a hint of mutiny in the air by students and colleges. Voila - new test. So here's the burning question: who will bear the financial burden of making the test's changes, providing the technology for digital test-taking, training proctors on the new rules, etc.? Students and administering schools. Students - watch those SAT test fees go up - and schools - watch your school guidance budget carefully....