Friday, December 4, 2015

Our Thoughts on the New SAT

Today we begin a four-part series on changes to the SAT. We start with an examination of how the revised test reflects the controversial Common Core State Standards.
  • Part II will look at how test-taking strategies will be (somewhat) less important in the new exam and on minor changes in the reading sections.
  • Part III will examine changes to the writing and math sections and discuss the importance of reading to all aspects of the test.
  • Finally, in part IV, we will provide our recommendations as to what to do about the changes to the SAT, including registering by December 28, 2015 to take the last sitting of the old version of the SAT on January 23, 2016. 

Part I
The SAT test has recently undergone the biggest set of changes since the writing section was introduced in 2005. The new test, which will be available for the first time on March 3, 2016, reflects the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to The New York Times. It purports to identify students who can analyze, not memorize. Should students welcome the change, or feel apprehensive? We’ll go over some of the major changes and offer some commentary about how they will affect students, particularly students with learning differences. Spoiler alert: Strong readers will bear up to the changes best.

Common Core is Underscored

The CCSS, which teach students to be critical evaluators who draw evidence-based conclusions, are heavily reflected in the new SAT. Regardless of one’s personal opinion about the controversial curriculum, it is safe to say that the transition can be challenging. Many students have struggled to meet the new standards, and many teachers, too, are engaged in a game of pedagogical trial and error.

These growing pains are natural for any school that undergoes major changes. But current students experiencing the transition are likely to see its effects reflected in their SAT scores as well as in their day-to-day lessons. Although most states that adopted the standards did so in 2010, a majority have implemented changes incrementally. Eighteen states, including New York, committed to full implementation by 2014, meaning that students who take the new SAT this year may have had only one full year exposed to the new curriculum (and taught by teachers still learning the ropes). Thirteen states will fully implement the standards during the course of this year. Nevada does not plan to implement the Common Core in full until 2016, and California will not do so until 2017. But even students in those states have an edge over those in Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, and Alaska, where the Common Core has not been adopted at all.

It is possible that this unevenness will mitigate somewhat as time passes: More students will spend more time with the new standards under the tutelage of teachers who have grown comfortable with the new expectations. But young people in states like North Dakota and Georgia, where the CCSS was fully implemented by 2013, may have an initial edge on test day.

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