The SAT is Getting Updated Again — Is it Still a Good Metric?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store June 27, 2002 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty)

Are you a good tester? Of course a score on a test isn't the end-all, be-all representation of achievement, but the much feared SAT scholastic aptitude test can deliver a pretty final verdict on a high school student's chances of admission to college. But does the SAT predict success?

On Wednesday, College Board President David Coleman announced that SAT is getting re-calibrated. Its vocabulary words will be less arcane and more in alignment with what students will encounter in college courses. The 9-year-old essay section will become optional, and will be scored separately. Meanwhile, the math questions will focus now focus on linear equations, functions, ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. And there are other changes, too.

Julia Ryan, writes for and produces The Atlantic's Education Channel.  She's been following the changes to the SAT, and joins The Takeaway to weigh in on whether the SAT is still a good metric to test student aptitude. 

See Also: Is This the Future of Secondary Education?


Julia Ryan

Produced by:

Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [14]

Grace Sanders from Portland, Oregon

In the mid 90s, as a well-liked high school English teacher at a Waldorf high achool, I was asked, at the last minute, with little time for research or preparation, to give a prep class in taking the SATs. I knew nothing about the test, never having taken it. The "class" consisted of about 25 minutes of the 11th graders' lunch hour for only 4 sessions. I had read that vocabulary work was statistically a successful practice, so included that for about 10 minutes each session. But the most significant thing I offered came from my examination of the practice-test materials I would need to give them. I was puzzled by several things, and decided to take the class through my puzzled reactions. So, I distributed the booklets, and started reading out loud the tedious instructions (not my usual dynamic approach to teaching). It was, of course, very boring and off-putting. Next, I pointed out that the booklets were made of cheap newsprint, with rather pale ink, and thus not so easy or pleasant to even read...also very off-putting. Then, we read some of the actual questions, which we noted were full of polysyllabic words and the passive voice...
both rather deadening to a reader. The most frustrating aspect? Typically,
the possible answers for each question didn't really seem wholly correct. One would often have to choose the least-wrong answer.
So, I asked them: why would this company make the whole experience such a discouraging turn-off...what could be the purpose of their trying to make one just give up and not even finish the test? I gave them my hypothesis: this test has nothing to do with evaluating fact, many intelligent persons would be offended by it. What it seems to be testing is STICK-TO-IT-iveness, your ability to keep on plowing through to the end, in spite of every barrier they have mounted. And why would this be helpful? It is a predictor of whether a student will STICK TO IT in college, and finish...the semester, the year, the four years. Thus, the school can more accurately plan: how many desks, teachers, classrooms, etc.
will they need? It is actually a bottom-line budgeting aid. Therefore, you can say to yourself, this is bullshit...I hate it, and I don't want to participate in this farce. can decide, yes, I will stick to it, persevere to the end of the few testing-hours, secure in the knowledge that it has nothing to do with the level of my intelligence.
The outcome of this very brief practice in vocabulary-building and my reassurance about the underlying benfit of the test? The average scores for the class increased from the previous year's class test-scores by 100 points! I don't think that four twenty-five-minute sessions with mere vocabulary work and minimal practice answering sample test-questions
accomplished that improvement.

Mar. 06 2014 05:52 PM

I defend the use of SAT and ACT as a way to equate the playing field among all high school students. I am happy they are changing the verban part of the SAT to being something more realistic. the math portion was realistic.

I still think they should penalize guessing to eliminate the dumb luck portion.

I have been an instructor for SAT prep classes (math portion). These test prep courses are reviewing the material and tearing your tricks on how to handle the tests. You having the skills and knowing these tricks you can improve your score by 100 points. Some of the most common tricks with the test:
1. avoid the time waster questions. You may be able to do it but it takes too much time you wont be able to get to all the questions
2. If you can do some short cut math tricks you can save time and eliminate choices thus you have it down to 2 choices where you have a safer bet on guessing.

Mar. 06 2014 05:12 PM
Penelope from Astoria

In regards to this discussion on changes to the SATs.... I took them, fell asleep during the test, and got 1000. I thought that was a great score for someone who hated high school and didn't want to go to college. So....I got into Rutgers because I was a ballerina. During orientation we had to take the placement tests. When they handed out the French test, I was far from enthused since I cheated my way through high school French for my Ds and Fs. Hence, I filled in the bubbles without looking at the questions. I tossed the test to the proctor. Amazingly, Rutgers placed me in ADVANCED French! How the does the story end? ....With a BA in history from Rutgers, a BFA from Alfred (graduating Magna Cum Laude and awarded lifetime membership to the Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Society), and a MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. ....That's what I think about the SATs

Mar. 06 2014 03:39 PM
Bill from Brooklyn

Standardized tests like both the SAT / ACT are not in the least relevant. I did awful on this test as well as every single standardized test like the IOWA TESTS given each year while in Primary School.

I not only graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts but went on to complete a Master of Arts as well.

These tests are HOG WASH and part of the HIGHER EDUCATION money machine.

Mar. 06 2014 03:26 PM
twebnyc from NYC

Your caller Sheila didn't say what college she attended. So her mediocre scores were submitted to what level college? Community College 4.0? Or Ivy League 4.0?

Mar. 06 2014 03:25 PM
Sean from Portland, OR

David Owen, a writer for the Atlantic, did the definitive, book-length debunking of the SAT in "None of the Above: The Myth of Scholastic Aptitude," a book that co-author Marilyn Doerr updated in 1999. Any informed discussion of this test must take account of Owen's excellent reporting and discussion. John Hockenberry's remark about the "test prep" industry is well taken, but there is an equally large testing industry that profits enormously from this forced gatekeeping ritual that American students must undergo each year. Every time ETS and the College Board try to "reboot" the SAT and make it "more relevant" and "less biased" (something that has happened numerous times in the test's history), most media outlets slavishly treat this as some kind of heroic and humane effort to better serve students. Nothing could be further from the truth -- it's simply ETS trying its best to dodge the perennially correct criticism that they are profiting from helping to systematically exclude certain socio-economic groups from higher education.

I did very well on my SATs, but I am in one of the favored groups.

Mar. 06 2014 01:35 PM
Patti from Cabot

one of my daughters took the test in 2001 and it made it to the DC post office with anthrax and was destroyed. They let her take it again for free and she scored 100 pts higher!

Mar. 06 2014 01:29 PM

SATs are necessary, as similar tests in each grade, ERBs, TAST in Texas, to measure strengths & weaknesses in a student. Teachers and parents can evaluate growth each year. Some students are better test takers. Test prep helps. I surmise these ideas from 43 years teaching, 38 yrs at The Hockaday School, a 100 year old girls’ school in Dallas. My brother was learning disabled and tested with 145 IQ. I am also learning disabled, it runs in families, & don’t test well; yet I defended & published my Master thesis at UT-D 1992 “A CONSTITUTION OF ADVANCED OBJECTS: A STUDY AND APPLICATION.” I developed a theory for teaching writing based on hermeneutics learning research. Those people who don’t test well have to take a different path to their destination—and never give up your dreams.

Mar. 06 2014 12:35 PM
ram from fl

Why not design a test like the military's ASVAB. This actually shows strengths and weaknesses.

Mar. 06 2014 12:34 PM
Sonia from Portland

I had below average SAT scores but straight A's in high school. Thankfully NYU looked past the test and admitted me. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in three years with honors and followed up with a graduate degree from University of Illinois -again with honors. The SAT is only good at predicting advantaged students.

Mar. 06 2014 12:30 PM
Hope from Portland OR

I left high school at 16 to start at a community college. I took testing there to determine what course level I would start in, and placed in all college level courses. I ended up going on to graduate with my four year degree at 20, and am just about to finish my masters. I never took the SAT.

Mar. 06 2014 12:22 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Write a fun autobiography in your application to whatever school you apply too. Think of the poor shnooks who have to look at all the bios trying to get into a school. Who would you choose? A great SAT score or someone who actually isn't humdrum?

The SAT is important but not the end all.

Mar. 06 2014 12:02 PM
John Cinti from Fairfield, CT

The SAT's are a complete waste of time. I was an art student in school, and have always been focused on creative subjects. The SAT's may have revealed I was not strong in math or science, but did nothing to show my strength in the arts. I own a successful business, I make a great salary, and enjoy wonderful freedom in my daily life. Parents, teach your children how to be successful in life through common sense education, and stop playing into the "organization" that is the SAT system.
Just my thoughts....
John C.

Mar. 06 2014 09:36 AM
Dale Diaz from 22801

I was an underachiever in high school. If colleges had only looked at grades I would never been admitted to higher education. When I registered for my first classes, an advisor asked if I had been valedictorian of my class (I had a 2.5 grade average.)
Apparently all the high school work counts for nothing, but I am a good guesser. Where does that leave good students who have test anxiety?

Mar. 06 2014 09:33 AM

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