College Board Enlists Khan Academy to Provide Free Online SAT Prep

By Benjamin Herold — March 05, 2014 4 min read
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Austin, Texas

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 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 here, where the South by Southwest education conference is taking place this week. “It’s time to shake things up.”

Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational website that provides free online lessons, instructional videos, assessments, and interactive tools for students, as well as data dashboards that provide feedback on students’ progress. Founded in 2008, the site now has 10 million users per month.

‘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.

Given the “interactivity, quality, and richness” of the forthcoming materials, founder Sal Khan told reporters, “I can’t imagine anyone who’s going to take the SAT not wanting to log in, set up an account, and get that very personalized feedback through the exercises, and do the deep practice on our site.”

About 1.7 million students took the SAT last year.

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. The test will now include three sections: math, “evidence-based reading and writing,” and an optional essay. (For a complete breakdown of the SAT redesign, see the College Bound blog.)

During a media briefing with reporters, Sal Khan and 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,” Coleman said.

The digital divide is also a “real issue for us” that’s “not going to be solved overnight,” said 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.

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. 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.

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

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an advocacy group based in Jamaica Plain, Mass., 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 president Bob Schaeffer in a statement.

Coleman and Khan, though, were enthusiastic.

“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,” 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.”

Photo: Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, speaks about his partnership with the College Board during an appearance Wednesday in Austin, Texas. At left is David Coleman, president of the College Board.—Erich Schlegel for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.