When the SAT was surpassed by the ACT in 2012 for the first time as the most widely used college admission test, the College Board decided it had to take steps to make itself more popular. The result has caused much confusion (“New SAT scores sow confusion over how to tell a good result,” The Washington Post, Sep. 26).
To help clarify matters, the College Board has published a conversion chart to allow comparisons between the old version and the new version. But what continues to be downplayed is that the goal of both versions remains unchanged. Its primary purpose is to allow students to be ranked. To do so, designers must engineer score spread. If they loaded up the SAT with items measuring the most important content effectively taught by classroom teachers, scores would likely be clumped together. To avoid that probability, they include many items that measure more what students bring to the classroom rather than what they have learned in the classroom.
Moreover, comparing results on the new SAT with the old SAT has been made more difficult because the College Board has eliminated the guessing penalty and esoteric vocabulary words. These two factors alone call into question whether valid inferences can be made. The College Board also persists in downplaying the charge that the SAT is coachable. When I was in high schoo in the 1950’s, the only material available was a thin pamphlet with one sample question about analogies and one about math. Counselors never told anyone that coaching was available because the thinking at the time was that the SAT measured innate aptitude.
I expect the College Board to make further changes in the years ahead in a frantic attempt to beat out the ACT. In the end, however, the goal will always remain the same: score spread.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.