College Board releases information for new SAT

Yesterday, the College Board published a report with the new set of standards for the 2016 “redesigned” SAT.  The report, entitled “Delivering Opportunity” claims to provide “a profoundly meaningful assessment that is thoroughly transparent  and aligned to critical high school outcomes and best instructional practices.” Those instructional practices include the Common Core.

The eight key changes, listed verbatim from the document, include the following:

1) Relevant words in Context

2) Command of Evidence

3) Essay analyzing a source

4) Focus on math that matters most

5) Problems grounded in real world contexts

6) Analysis in history/science/ social studies

7) Founding documents and great global conversation

8)No penalty for wrong answers

Furthermore, test-takers will be allowed to use calculatorsI only on certain sections of the test. In addition to expounding upon its educational philosophy, the report includes samples from the test sections. As someone who has been teaching many aspects of English (grammar, literature, spelling, vocabulary, etc) from middle school through college for decades I have witnessed the declining ability of native speakers to master their language. If this “redesigned” test will parallel aspects of the Common Core, then I must express my dissatisfaction with the direction it is taking, particularly with regard to the Reading/Writing sections of the test. Lowering expectations can have only one result–mediocrity. Today’s entry will focus only one the first alteration–Relevant words in Context.

The report states: “The redesigned SAT® supports a sharp focus on relevant words in context in multiple portions of the exam. In the SAT Reading Test, students are called on to determine the meaning of vocabulary in context, with an emphasis on Tier Two words and phrases.”  As a brief explanation to the un-initiated in “educationese,” consider the following.  Tier 1 words include basic vocabulary like sight words; tier 2 words are high frequency words, important for comprehension, some with multiple meaning.  Tier 3 words are those with low frequency that are context-specific, like those employed in academic domains such as science and technology.  Shouldn’t students become familiar with these in their high school careers?  Shouldn’t institutions of higher learning expect that students can understand Tier 3 vocabulary?  Take a look at one example from the new test:

“The coming decades will likely see more intense clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions. Some regions could end up bloated beyond the capacity of their infrastructure, while others struggle, their promise stymied by inadequate human or other resources.” {Adapted from Richard Florida, The Great Reset. ©2010 by Richard Florida).

As used in line 55, “intense” most nearly means A) emotional. B) concentrated. C) brilliant.D) determined.”

Is this the level of vocabulary we should expect from our incoming college students?  Several other words in that quotation might pose slightly more challenge: bloated, infrastructure, stymied. While I concede that this is just one example, I remain skeptical about the results that this test will produce.  Is the College Board determined to reduce the level of challenge to increase scores?



Leave a Reply