- Dec 6, 2008
AT first glance, the College Board’s revised SAT seems a radical departure from the test’s original focus on students’ general ability or aptitude. Set to debut a year from now, in the spring of 2016, the exam will require students to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of subjects they study in school.
The revised SAT takes some important, if partial, steps toward becoming a test of curriculum mastery. In place of the infamously tricky, puzzle-type items, the exam will be a more straightforward test of material that students encounter in the classroom. The essay, rather than rewarding sheer verbosity, will require students to provide evidence in support of their arguments and will be graded on both analysis and writing. Vocabulary will move away from the obscure language for which the SAT is noted, instead emphasizing words commonly used in college and the workplace.
While a clear improvement, the revised SAT remains problematic. It will still emphasize speed — quick recall and time management — over subject knowledge. Despite evidence that writing is the single most important skill for success in college, the essay will be optional. (Reading and math will still be required.)
And the biggest problem is this: While the content will be new, the underlying design will not change. The SAT will remain a “norm-referenced” exam, designed primarily to rank students rather than measure what they actually know. Such exams compare students to other test takers, rather than measure their performance against a fixed standard. They are designed to produce a “bell curve” distribution among examinees, with most scoring in the middle and with sharply descending numbers at the top and bottom. Test designers accomplish this, among other ways, by using plausible-sounding “distractors” to make multiple-choice items more difficult, requiring students to respond to a large number of items in a short space of time, and by dropping questions that too many students can answer correctly.
“Criterion-referenced” tests, on the other hand, measure how much students know about a given subject. Performance is not assessed in relation to how others perform but in relation to fixed academic standards. Assuming they have mastered the material, it is possible for a large proportion, even a majority, of examinees to score well; this is not possible on a norm-referenced test.
K-12 schools increasingly employ criterion-referenced tests for this reason. That approach reflects the movement during the past two decades in all of the states — those that have adopted their own standards, as well as those that have adopted the Common Core — to set explicit learning standards and assess achievement against them.
Didn't know they were revising the test yet again and now making writing optional.
I'm old so I only had verbal and math.
I've always felt the SAT itself was BS, even though I did well in it, in that it didn't really cover the subject matter you actually learned in school or would learn in college.
There is also a clear socio-economic advantage that correlates heavily with SAT scores--the higher the household median income, the higher the scores and vice versa--and the cottage industry of expensive prep classes.
I also didn't know that the writing exam rewarded verbosity. That's a terrible metric for effective writing. What was the College Board thinking?