Feature

The new SAT: (a) Better? (b) Worse?

The College Board is once again revamping the SAT.

“It’s the news that will launch a thousand test-preparation courses,” said The Washington Post in an editorial. The College Board is once again revamping the SAT, the “much-criticized college admissions exam” that has decided the fate of millions of anxious students since its introduction in 1926. Gone is the mandatory essay, returning the test’s perfect score to 1600. Some advanced math will vanish, and demands to define obscure words such as “sagacious” will be replaced with more common college vocabulary, like “synthesis.” Better to do away with the SAT altogether, said Jennifer Finney Boylan in The New York Times. It’s a “national scandal’’ that we still rely on a single test to determine a student’s fate—especially since the SAT rewards memorization over intelligence and favors wealthy students whose parents hire $500-an-hour tutors to coach them on how to “game” the test.

The real scandal is that the College Board is dumbing down the SAT, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. God forbid that students learn “fancy” words—“otherwise known as rich vocabulary”—or be able to write an essay proving they can think and express themselves clearly. Yes, it’s unfair that the poorest children apparently score an average of 400 points lower than the richest. That problem can only be resolved “through better schools and teachers.” The College Board prefers the quickest solution: “When the going gets tough, well, why not just make the going easier?”

“It’s doubtful the latest changes by the College Board will do much,” said Walt Gardner in the New York Daily News. No matter how it’s tweaked, the SAT can only measure a candidate’s ability to answer certain kinds of questions, rather than their likelihood of doing well in college. High school grades compiled over four years are a “much more accurate indicator of success,” according to evidence provided by more than 800 colleges. The SAT is “a hoax,” said Bard College President Leon Botstein in Time.com. Ask any scientist, engineer, writer, artist, or physician if he or she succeeds by regurgitating “right answers,” with no complexity or ambiguity. Colleges need to create a new generation of entrance tests that utilize modern technology and give students time to do research and think creatively to solve problems. “Those are the skills that are rewarded in college, and in life.”

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