A University Looks at the College Board’s Redesigned SAT

By Ronné Patrick Turner

As an institution that receives close to 50,000 applications for the 2,800 spaces for the first-year entering class, Northeastern University took special interest in the College Board’s March 5 announcement on the SAT redesign. In fact, our undergraduate admissions team took a break from finalizing our decisions to follow David Coleman’s announcement. After months of carefully reading and considering the nuances of each student’s application, the team was eager to hear how the redesigned SAT might improve the admissions process for our applicants. Additionally, we were interested in how this new test will assist us in our work to identify and admit students who are the best fit for the Northeastern community.

Throughout the announcement, I carefully watched the reactions of my team. As we discussed the changes that were most intriguing, as well as the few that were most concerning, the promise of the redesigned SAT promoting greater clarity for students and college administrators alike was most valued by the Northeastern team. Making the exam less a variable for students in the college process, and more a guidepost toward success, resonated with a team charged with creating a diverse and global university community. They were pleased and hopeful that the redesigned SAT might help make the winding road to a college education a little less mysterious, especially for the most underserved students they counsel.

The current SAT is not widely considered a tool for learning. At times, the exam is seen as a deliberate barrier to success; a hurdle that select students can train themselves to clear with adequate preparation and resources. Regardless of how holistic an institution’s admissions process may be, many still believe that the current SAT stands in the way of student success—dividing students, at best, into those who are good testers and those who are not. Or at its worst, widening the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

While this is not the first time the College Board has redesigned the SAT, this iteration represents an encouraging new direction for the organization: shifting priorities toward improving access and opportunities for all students, regardless of their backgrounds. Among the most unprecedented and exciting changes of the redesigned SAT includes an exam that promises content connected to classroom instruction, more relevant vocabulary words, and free test prep for every student through Khan Academy.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of these proposed changes.

The very existence of the private test-prep industry suggests a student’s educational achievement may be directly related to their income bracket. If we are serious about improving opportunities for all students, providing high-quality test prep for everyone is essential. Through its new partnership with Khan Academy, the College Board is declaring that it is unacceptable that students from families who are unable to afford or access private test preparation are at a disadvantage when it comes to applying to college. The College Board is leveling the playing field and ensuring that all students have access to free and high-quality test preparation.

Connecting the content of the exam to classroom instruction is also a powerful statement on the importance of enhancing clarity and eliminating inequalities that exist for students as they prepare to apply to college. The College Board is taking action to remove the ingrained notion that students should rely on certain strategies to do well on the SAT—from vocabulary flash cards to guessing and eliminating answers. Instead, students should plan to rely on the integrity of academic standards, relevant and engaging curriculum, and skilled teachers to prepare for the SAT. If the SAT is no longer an outlier in a student’s educational experience, but instead functions as a reflection of what students are learning every day, the exam will no longer carry the level of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty for students that it has in the past. From an admissions perspective, this will allow students to concentrate on taking more advanced courses, pursuing extracurricular activities, and showing us a truer and clearer picture of themselves as a student.

The College Board announced the changes to the SAT a full two years in advance of the first planned administration of the new exam. Between now and 2016, we plan to prepare our systems and policies for the redesigned exam. We will monitor how students progress when they take a redesigned PSAT in 2015, and we will hold the College Board accountable for ensuring that the redesigned SAT is reliable and predictive of student success.

With this announcement, the College Board is taking responsibility for the glaring inequalities that exist in our education system. The organization is attempting to level the playing field so that all students can work through the college application process with the same expectation of success.

Ronné Patrick Turner is associate vice president of enrollment and dean of admissions at Northeastern University.




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