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Latest SAT overhaul aligns with Common Core

Revised exam will be more closely tied to high school curriculum
The redesigned SAT, set for spring 2016, will measure college and career skills.
The redesigned SAT, set for spring 2016, will measure college and career skills.

Administrators in coming years may feel less stressed about adding SAT prep to students’ regular coursework. The newly redesigned SAT, which students will start taking in spring 2016, will be more in line with the Common Core standards being rolled out in schools nationwide. The revised exam will test students on what they’re learning from their high school curriculum and measure skills needed for college and career readiness.

“The redesigned SAT will be more focused and useful, more clear and open than ever before,” College Board President David Coleman said when announcing the new test in a March speech in Austin, Texas. For example, uncommon SAT vocabulary words like “adumbrate” will be traded for terms students will use in college and beyond, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

Adumbrate, by the way, means “to sketch out in a vague way.”

The updated SAT will be administered both in print and by computer. There will be three sections. On the reading portion, students will see source texts from literature, literary non-fiction, science, history and social studies, and be asked “to analyze them the way they would in those classes.”

The math section will cover fewer skills in greater depth. Skills will include problem solving, data analysis and algebra—“topics that evidence shows most contribute to student readiness for college and career training,” Coleman said in his speech.

The essay section is now optional, and asks students to analyze an argument.

The SAT was created in the 1920s, and the content was last modified in 2005. At that time, a separate essay section was added, raising the total possible points a student could achieve to 2400 from 1600. The new exam will return to the 1600 scale, with a separate score for the essay, and points will no longer be deducted for incorrect answers.

Some critics say that the changes were likely spurred by the increasing use of the ACT, which surpassed the SAT as the most popular college admissions exam for the past two years and also has an optional essay. Others, like Emily Kissane, policy analyst at education solution company Hobsons, question if making the essay section optional sends a message that writing well isn’t important in academic preparation.

The changes are not surprising, given that Coleman was one of the architects of the Common Core.

“Part of the design here is to be the kind of test that will accurately measure where a student is at academically,” says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “Right now there is a cottage industry of people and companies that prepare students to do better on tests, and we’re trying to get away from that.”

But the effectiveness of the new test won’t be known until students begin taking it two years from now. “It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” Domenech says.