More views on College Board’s SAT rewrite

February 28, 2013

Two rival college admissions tests have almost evenly split the national market. In the fall, my colleague Valerie Strauss of The Answer Sheet reported that the ACT had nosed past the long-dominant SAT for the first time in the number of test-takers.

The 2012 tally was neck and neck: 1,666,017 students taking the ACT, 1,664,479 taking the SAT.

But in and around the nation’s capital, the SAT still rules.

So the news this week that the College Board is embarking on a rewrite of the SAT was bound to grab the attention of parents, students and colleges.

We talked with several college officials about this. Opinion is mixed.

Charles Deacon, dean of admissions at Georgetown University, told us that he is not among those who are clamoring to overhaul the SAT. But Deacon added that he is not a fan of the test’s writing section, either, and that Georgetown only weighs an applicant’s math and critical reading scores.

Here are a few more reactions.

From Forrest Maltzman, senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning at George Washington University:

“While the proof will be in the pudding, having an SAT that [is] a strong predictor of college performance would make the test a more valuable tool in the admissions process. We applaud the College Board’s attempt to do this. Standardized tests are potentially useful tools for assessing applicant performance. However, there is some evidence that the current SAT is not the best predictor of college performance. And it is clear that ‘coaching’ can improve SAT performance.”

From Sharon Alston, vice provost for undergraduate enrollment at American University:

“I’m very supportive of the direction that the Board is taking as it looks to redesign the SAT. Though we allow our applicants the option to be evaluated without reviewing standardized test scores, the majority (90%) of students seeking admission to AU still submit their scores. We do believe that the SAT, used within the context of a holistic evaluation process, continues to be a valuable tool in identifying students who will be successful at AU.

“The fact that the SAT was redesigned nearly 10 years ago suggests that it is time to take another look at the exam and assess how well it is connecting students with college (and beyond). This is not unlike the curriculum reviews that take place at post-secondary institutions. It’s important that we remain relevant to our various constituent groups. Students need to see the connection between the work that they are doing in high school and its application in higher education. Colleges and universities need to be assured that the SAT remains the gold standard of testing and a useful method of predicting college success. K-12 educators need a tool to assist in developing curriculum to prepare students to meet the demands of college academics.”

From Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University in Massachusetts (and a former top admissions official at George Mason University):

“This seems like a good move for the College Board in public relations, hopefully will be in substance as well. It’s common knowledge that the SAT has lost market share, and in my most cynical moments I might chalk this up as an effort to begin to turn that trend around. [New College Board President] David Coleman, however, has been a longtime critic of the SAT, and consistently holds that, while the test has value, it could be made into a much more powerful and valid tool.

“I share that hope, but more than that I hope that we all place the discussion in a reasonable context. Even the most robust standardized test has limited potential for predicting student success. The most unfortunate outcome is where secondary schools become driven to align curriculum and instruction to tests that we know have this very limited efficacy. We should all be reasonably on guard from assuming that any revisions, no matter how well intentioned or executed, will create a test that should have influence over curriculum development — a case where we allow the tail to wag the dog, the cart to lead the horse, or any other number of analogies that are no longer part of the SAT.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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