Published Online: March 10, 2014
Published in Print: March 12, 2014, as Khan Academy Recruited to Provide Online SAT Prep

College Board Enlists Khan Academy for SAT Prep

It's not just the SAT itself that's changing.

Soon, students will be able to prepare for the high-stakes college-entrance exam by going on an online "SAT quest," complete with custom practice problems, instructional videos, and tailored feedback offered by the popular nonprofit learning website Khan Academy.

Officials from both Khan Academy and the College Board, which administers the SAT, billed the new partnership as an opportunity to level the highly competitive—and often expensive—playing field of SAT test-preparation.

"The College Board cannot stand by while some test-prep providers intimidate parents at all levels of income into the belief that the only way to secure their child's success is to pay for costly test preparation and coaching," College Board President David Coleman said in prepared remarks delivered March 5 here, where the South by Southwest education conference took place last week. "It's time to shake things up."

'Interactivity' and 'Richness'

Beginning immediately, students and other users will be able to access hundreds of previously unreleased questions from past SAT exams, as well as videos with step-by-step solutions, on the Khan Academy website.

To help students prepare for the new exam, set to debut in 2016, Khan Academy next spring will release materials and tools bearing the College Board brand, including adaptive and game-based online instructional offerings that can gauge where individual students are in their preparations for the SAT, and provide customized feedback.

Khan Academy founder Sal Khan told reporters that the forthcoming materials would offer "interactivity, quality, and richness," with students getting "very personalized feedback through the exercise."

The redesigned SAT exam will represent a major change, with greater emphasis on citing evidence to support answers, more focus on analyzing arguments, and fewer areas of math coverage.

Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, speaks at an event in Austin, Texas, about his organization’s new partnership with the College Board to provide free online test preparation for the SAT. At left is David Coleman, who became the president of the College Board in 2012.
—Erich Schlegel for Education Week

During a media briefing with reporters, Mr. Khan and Mr. Coleman acknowledged that providing online preparation materials for math—where "productive practice" of discrete skills can lead to rapid learning gains—will be easier than for reading or writing.

"This will take some work," Mr. Coleman said.

The digital divide is also a "real issue for us" that's "not going to be solved overnight," said Mr. Khan.

Recent data suggest many families still lack broadband access. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Internet Project found that 70 percent of U.S. adults have broadband connections at home. The figure for blacks was 62 percent,and for Hispanics 56 percent. And for those adults lacking a high school diploma, just 28 percent have broadband at home.

Mr. Coleman said the College Board will invest in partnerships with schools, public libraries, after-school programs, and Boys & Girls Clubs to help make sure there is equitable access to the Khan Academy resources. Mr. Khan, meanwhile, emphasized that his organization's online resources work best when a "great teacher, coach, or parent is involved as a stakeholder," helping students absorb and make use of the feedback they receive.

Mr. Coleman and Mr. Khan told reporters that the new marriage "happened quickly" and will not involve any exchange of money between the two organizations.

FairTest, an advocacy group critical of the SAT, questioned whether the new relationship will have its intended effect.

"The partnership with the Khan Academy is unlikely to make a dent in the huge market for high-priced, personalized SAT workshops and tutoring that only well-to-do families can afford," said Robert A. Schaeffer, FairTest's public education director, in a statement.

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Some critics also said the College Board seemed to be sending conflicting signals by promising an exam that would not encourage cramming and test-taking "tricks," even while it offers a test-prep program.

In any case, Mr. Coleman was enthusiastic about the plans.

"The College Board has never before entrusted our name to an external organization to ensure the materials students encounter are faithfully aligned to the challenges of our assessment," Mr. Coleman said in his prepared remarks. "May I simply say, [Khan Academy's] work is beautiful, and based on evidence of what most accelerates students' learning."

Vol. 33, Issue 24, Pages 14-15

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